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Doctors' Notes

Is Your Thyroid Affecting Your Mood?

Our resident physician experts share their advice on dealing with thyroid disease.
Credit: Thinkstock

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 

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Question: After two years of battling a mood disorder with no real improvement, I was finally diagnosed with an underactive thyroid.  I have now been on medication for the last six months.  My mood shifted almost immediately!  Is there a connection between the thyroid and the mood?  Could my depression have been caused by my thyroid all along?

An estimated 40 million people suffer from anxiety disorders and an additional 20 million people have symptoms of depression in this country.  However, what many don’t realize is that anxiety and depression just may be signs of an underlying thyroid disorder.  Thyroid disease is a category of illnesses that are typically characterized by the thyroid gland being either overactive or underactive.   Anxiety can be a common symptom of hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid, while depression is more typically associated with hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is a small, two-lobed, butterfly shaped gland that can be found in the front midline position of the neck.  The job of the thyroid gland is to produce hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism.  These hormones are then useful in determining how the body uses and stores its energy.  Therefore, it’s not hard to see the connection with the regulation of our mood.  If these hormones are overproduced, our energy can be too high, leading to anxiety.  On the flip side, if these hormones aren’t produced enough, our mood can be deflated leading to the symptoms of depression. 

Mood changes are usually not the only warning signs of thyroid dysfunction.  Some common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include high anxiety, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, tremors or shakiness, heat intolerance, increased sweating, increased and/or irregular heart rate, unexplained weight loss, and menstrual irregularity.  In addition to depression, symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include fatigue, constipation, dryness of the hair, skin, and nails, unexplained weight gain, and an increased sensitivity to cold temperatures.  With all of the body systems associated with the thyroid gland, it’s important to have a healthy one.  It should be checked at least once a year to ensure that it is functioning properly.

The good news is that once detected, thyroid disorders can be treated restoring the mood and other symptoms back to normal.  Detection of thyroid disease typically requires a simple blood test. Treatments do vary depending on the cause and severity of the thyroid dysfunction as well as other factors like age and medical history.  However, it is very possible to live a full and normal life once it has been detected and treated.  

In fact, many celebrities have also battled varying forms of thyroid disease and have gone on to overcome the challenge.  Find out which of your favorite celebrities have risen to the top of their game in spite of their thyroid disorders: 

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