HealthcareMental HealthThyroid Troubles: How an Imbalanced Thyroid Can Cause Depression and Physical Issues

By Dr. Dawn Ericsson, MD Board Certified OBGYN and Chief Medical Officer — AgeRejuvenation Medical Clinic

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces the hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones play a vital role in regulating many critical body functions, including your metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, energy levels, and mood. When your thyroid is out of balance, it can lead to a range of physical and mental health issues. Depression is one of the most common mental symptoms.

The link between thyroid imbalance and depression

Both an underactive and overactive thyroid gland can significantly impact your mental health and contribute to depression. In the case of hypothyroidism, your thyroid is underactive and not producing enough hormones.

Low levels of thyroid hormones often affect your body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. This disruption can lead to fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, feelings of depression, and a general decrease in overall well-being.

On the other hand, hyperthyroidism is characterized by an overactive thyroid gland. If you have hyperthyroidism, you may experience symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can exacerbate feelings of depression and increase your risk of developing a mood disorder.

Physical issues caused by thyroid imbalance

In addition to mental health issues and depression, an imbalanced thyroid can cause a range of physical issues. Thyroid dysfunction can affect various aspects of your digestion and lead to constipation, bloating, and poor nutrient absorption. An underactive thyroid gland can slow metabolism and lead to weight gain, while an overactive thyroid gland can cause rapid weight loss.

With an imbalanced thyroid, you can also experience muscle weakness, stiffness, and joint pain. Hormone fluctuations as a result of thyroid disorders can disrupt menstrual cycles, leading to irregular periods or even infertility. Finally, a lack of thyroid hormone can also cause you to experience dry skin, brittle nails, and thinning hair.

Why thyroid imbalances often go unrecognized

People with thyroid imbalances frequently fail to recognize their condition. The symptoms of an imbalanced thyroid often seem vague and take time to develop, which makes it easy for many people to attribute them to other causes. For example, you may be shrugging off your fatigue, weight changes, mood changes, hair loss, and difficulty concentrating due to your hectic lifestyle, aging, or stress. People often think their symptoms are just a normal part of aging.

In addition, symptoms of thyroid imbalances vary significantly from person to person. Some experience dramatic weight changes, while others face subtle shifts in energy levels or mood. This variability may make it difficult for you to recognize a pattern and connect it to thyroid dysfunction.

Because routine thyroid screening is not common practice, you may be unaware that a simple blood test can accurately diagnose thyroid dysfunction. Without routine screening, you can live with undetected thyroid imbalances for years, leading to more pronounced symptoms and potential complications.

Diagnosing thyroid imbalances

Identifying a thyroid imbalance requires a coordinated effort between you and your healthcare provider. Our first step is to obtain a comprehensive medical history and physical examination. During this process, we pay close attention to symptoms indicative of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Some blood tests need to be done to get a definitive understanding of thyroid function. These include TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, T4, and T3. TSH is a hormone your pituitary gland secretes to stimulate or control thyroid production. Elevated TSH levels indicate an underactive thyroid, while decreased levels suggest an overactive thyroid. TSH secretion increases to stimulate the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones like T4 and T3.

The TSH level can get pretty high if insufficient T4 or T3 is produced. If T4 and T3 levels are low, this is considered hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. In response, the pituitary gland tries harder to stimulate the secretion of T4 and T3. The pituitary does this by cranking up the secretion of TSH, like a coach yelling at his team to score more points. The converse scenario is also seen. If T4 and T3 levels are elevated, TSH levels will decline.

Low levels of T4 and T3 on a blood test suggest hypothyroidism, whereas high levels point to hyperthyroidism.

Several other elements can affect the secretion, production, activation, or function of these hormones. We include other tests in our thyroid panel, such as reverse T3 and thyroid antibodies, which tell us about autoimmune thyroid problems like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease. Our comprehensive panel also includes other hormones and vitamins that affect thyroid function.

Once we spot a thyroid hormone imbalance and conduct a thorough evaluation, we formulate an individualized treatment plan for your specific needs. In the case of hypothyroidism, we can prescribe an oral hormone therapy to supplement your body’s low hormone levels, which will alleviate symptoms and restore hormonal balance. Conversely, for hyperthyroidism, we offer several solutions to normalize your thyroid hormone production. Often, we eliminate a patient’s need to take other medications that treat thyroid symptoms but don’t deal with the underlying thyroid imbalance.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can also play a significant role in managing your thyroid imbalance. We recommend regular exercise routines, dietary adjustments, stress reduction techniques, and sleep habits that will benefit your future thyroid health.

The failure to recognize thyroid imbalances is a significant issue affecting many individuals. By addressing your thyroid imbalance, you can regain control over your mental and physical health, enjoying a happier and healthier life.

Diagnosing and treating a thyroid imbalance is not a one-size-fits-all process. Finding the proper treatment and achieving hormonal balance takes time. Patience, open communication, and trust are vital throughout this restorative journey.

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