One cause of depression can be a thyroid problem: more specifically, an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism. Yes, you read that right: hypothyroidism can lead to clinical depression. The disease of hypothyroidism, when the thyroid is underactive, is commonly associated with weight gain or difficulty losing extra weight.
This component of hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid gets so much attention, that the component of depression gets buried. But clinical depression is one of numerous possible outcomes of a malfunctioning thyroid.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the neck and is the second most important gland in the body, second to the pituitary gland. When the thyroid begins malfunctioning, not producing enough of the hormone thyroxine, disaster can occur, as this gland controls the well-being of your organs and tissues.
In fact, if underactive thyroid is not treated, life-threatening complications can occur. If you have symptoms of depression or know someone who is showing signs of depression, including profound and disabling depression, don’t blow off the possibility that an underactive thyroid can be the underlying cause. It was in the case of my mother. A blood test will determine if the thyroid is working properly.
This doesn’t mean that most people with feelings of hopelessness and despair, lethargy, fatigue and loss of appetite have hypothyroidism. Clinical depression has many causes, including a number of medical conditions, not to mention acute psychological trauma. But every person with depression should have a complete physical workup to see if thyroid hormone levels are normal.
Besides depression, classic symptoms of hypothyroidism include: often feeling cold even though the temperature is normal and everyone else in the room feels fine; hair loss that doesn’t seem in alignment with male pattern baldness or aging; a hoarse voice; fatigue and lethargy; excessive sleepiness and wanting to sleep all the time; moderate weight gain (though not all people with hypothyroidism will gain weight, especially if depression is killing their appetite); constipation; and tingling in the hands and fingers.
A patient will not necessarily have every symptom listed here, and may only have a few at the time of diagnosis.
According to Webmd.com, “Sometimes depression is the first indication that a person’s thyroid is underactive.” Webmd.com also says, “…because of an overlap of some symptoms of hypothyroidism and depression, doctors and patients may overlook the possibility that a depressed patient could actually have an underactive thyroid as well. In those cases, the person’s depressive symptoms could be caused by hypothyroidism itself.”
Underactive thyroid can also cause vague aches and pains throughout the body, difficulty concentrating, and memory lapses — and these symptoms can also come with depression in a person who has a normal thyroid. Again, a blood test will be very telling regarding thyroid function.
Not only can treatment with thyroid hormone replacement alleviate the feelings of profound sadness, crying, apathy, loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities, and aversion to eating, but this treatment can enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants.