The Link Between Thyroid Dysfunction and Mental Illness

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depressed woman

One of the dark secrets of mental illness is its connection to undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction. In fact, depression may be one of the first symptoms of thyroid disease, a fact discussed in medical literature more than 40 years ago, as early as 1969.

 

Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction Can Be Mistaken for Mental Illness

For patients with undiagnosed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common cause of hypothyroidism, the picture can be even more grim. Cognitive symptoms associated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, including mental abnormalities, depression, irritability and confusion, can appear long before a patient shows signs of actual hypothyroidism. Patients can be mislabeled as having a major mental disorder such as psychotic depression, paranoid schizophrenia, or the manic phase of a manic depressive disorder, when the underlying cause of their symptoms is a thyroid disorder.

A study released in 1987 suggested that 15% of patients admitted to a psychiatric facility for depression had elements of mild or overt hypothyroidism based on laboratory evaluation.

If we’ve known about the connection between thyroid disease and mental illness for more than four decades, why isn’t thyroid testing standard for patients being evaluated for depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental illnesses?

A New Advocate for Thyroid Testing in Mental Health Evaluations

Dana Trentini, author of the thyroid advocacy blog, Hypothyroid Mom, wants to see this changed. She is championing the cause for thyroid testing in mental disorders in 2013.

A thyroid patient herself, Trentini is also a mental health professional with a degree in psychological counseling from Columbia University. She has spent more than 10 years as a career counselor and trainer, helping people who are dealing with job loss or are unsatisfied with their career progression. According to Trentini, job loss and career dissatisfaction are powerful triggers for brain health issues. And yet, despite her education and involvement in the mental health field, Trentini was unaware of the connection between thyroid disease and mental health until her own diagnosis with hypothyroidism in 2006.

Trentini stresses that professionals working with individuals suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and any form of mental health issue, should be aware that an underlying thyroid condition could be at the root of the problem.

Treatment with T3 Offers Hope

Fortunately, there is a light in the darkness. Numerous studies have shown that these patients respond favorably to thyroid replacement hormone therapy. In fact, a very large study called the STAR-D trial showed that the thyroid hormone Triiodothyronine, or T3, is equally as effective as the drug lithium in treatment of resistant depression. The study also found that adding T3 to treatment protocols for depression shows an advantage over adding lithium for patients who have tried two other treatments without success.

These studies support the consideration of using T3, the active thyroid hormone, as a possible treatment protocol for all patients with depression, and even those with bipolar disorder, even when standard thyroid blood tests appear to be normal.

We applaud Dana Trentini and her blog, Hypothyroid Mom, for continuing to spread the word and drive awareness about the important of proper diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, or other issues related to mental health, the doctors at Holtorf Medical Group can help you determine if thyroid dysfunction or other hormonal imbalances are at the root of your symptoms. Our innovative treatment protocols, including treatment with T3 where indicated, can help you bring your mental picture back into happy focus.

 

 

 

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