When someone develops depression, health professionals usually focus their attention on the brain.
In some cases, however, it is a person’s thyroid that is the source of the problem.
Symptoms of Depression or Undiagnosed Hypothyroidism?
So what is hypothyroidism and how can it be misdiagnosed as depression?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland situated at the front of the throat, that controls how quickly the body uses energy. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is under-active and fails to secrete enough hormones into the bloodstream for optimal brain and body functioning.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Depressed mood;
- Weight gain;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Low blood pressure;
- Dry, coarse skin and hair;
- Hoarse voice;
- Slow reflexes;
- Inability to tolerate cold;
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland.
The overlap of symptoms shared by depression and hypothyroidism can produce a misdiagnosis of depression instead of hypothyroidism. Misdiagnosis can have a major impact on an individual because the cause and treatment options for depression and hypothyroidism are not the same.
In some cases, however, depression and hypothyroidism can coexist, especially in older women. Research suggests that up to 20% of all chronic depression cases are associated with low production of thyroid hormones. Conversely, 40% of individuals with hypothyroidism have significant signs and symptoms of depression.
Treatment for hypothyroidism varies greatly from treatment for depression, which is why those misdiagnosed with depression instead of hypothyroidism tend not to improve.
The most effective treatment for hypothyroidism is a drug treatment that requires lifelong management. It involves taking a synthetic thyroid hormone pill once a day. This oral medication restores hormones to adequate levels, reversing the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism.
On the other hand, treatments for depression can include (but are not limited to), psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Behaviour Therapy and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy. Antidepressant medication may also be prescribed to be used in combination with therapy. Other sources of support that can also help in the treatment of depression include meditation training, exercise, diet and support groups.
In cases where depression and hypothyroidism coexist, studies have shown that not only do thyroid replacement medications often improve depressive symptoms, they also boost the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.
If you have a) been diagnosed with depression, b) do not feel that you are improving after trying numerous treatment options, and c) appear to experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism then you might like to book an appointment with your GP. Explain your symptoms and concerns, they will likely be able to assist further. On the other hand, if you are struggling with a dual diagnosis of depression and hypothyroidism, then an appointment with a qualified therapist can be of great benefit.
- Nemeroff, C.B., Simon, J.S., Haggerty, J.J. Jr., & Evans, D.L. (1985). Antithyroid antibodies in depressed patients. American Journal of Psychiatry, 142(7), 840–843.
- Pies, R. W. (1995). Women, mood, and the thyroid. Women Psychiatry Health, 4, 4–10.