If you’ve been feeling tired and depressed and you’ve gained a bit of weight, you may be thinking it’s just a normal part of life. Maybe you just need to get more rest and eat a bit better, right? Or, perhaps you’ve considered asking your doctor about an antidepressant to help with your depression? What you may not know, however, is that symptoms like these may also be part of a condition called hypothyroidism. In fact, hypothyroidism and depression often go together.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ in your neck which produces hormones that regulate your body’s energy usage (metabolism). These hormones have an influence on many important aspects of your functioning, such as:
- Heart rate
- Muscle strength
- Body temperature
If you do not produce sufficient amounts of these hormones, it can have many effects on your health and wellness.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Among the symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Sleep difficulties
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Dry hair and skin
- Feelings of depression
- Cold sensitivity
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Muscle and joint pain
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- High cholesterol
- Thinning hair
- Slow heart rate
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
There are a number of potential reasons why your thyroid gland may not be producing enough hormones. Among these causes are:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which your body is mistakenly attacking its own tissues
- Treatment for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) that’s reducing your thyroid gland function too much
- Thyroid surgery to remove part of the gland
- Radiation therapy for cancer in the area of the head and neck that’s slowing down your thyroid gland
- Certain medications that can affect your thyroid gland
- Congenital hypothyroidism (you were born with it)
- Pituitary disorders
- Iodine deficiency
Getting a Proper Diagnosis
As you may have noticed, several of the symptoms of hypothyroidism – sleep problems, fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, feelings of depression and weight gain – overlap with the symptoms of clinical depression. However, hypothyroidism has several additional symptoms beyond those associated with clinical depression. If you are also experiencing these symptoms, it is important that you mention this to your doctor. Your doctor will most likely run the necessary tests anyway, but you want to make certain that it doesn’t get overlooked. Proper treatment is important in helping you feel well again.
How Hypothyroidism Is Treated
Generally, hypothyroidism is treated by taking a man-made version of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) called levothyroxine (brand names: Levoxyl, Synthroid, Tirosint, Unithroid, Unithroid Direct). T4 is converted in the body to T3 (triiodothyronine), which is the active form of the hormone.
Many patients, however, prefer to use an older form of treatment involving dessicated animal thyroid extract (brand names: Armour Thyroid, Nature-Throid, NP Thyroid, WesThroid, WP Thyroid). Natural dessicated thyroid extracts contain both T4 and T3, which many patients claim gives them better results than T4 alone, perhaps because of issues with T4-T3 conversion.
Some doctors may also choose to augment levothyroxine therapy with T3-only medications like Cytomel for this same reason.
You should consult with your physician about which treatment approach is right for you.
"Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)." Mayo Clinic., "Natural Thyroid Medications." Dr. Cheryl Kasdorf, Naturopathic Physician., "Thyroid Gland, How It Functions, Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism." endocrineweb., "Thyroid Patients: Do You Need T3 or Natural Dessicated Thyroid?" Verywell.com. , "Treating Hypothyroidism." WebMD.
Nancy Schimelpfening has a master’s degree in community health education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
She was the About.com (now Verywell.com) expert in depression for 18 years, providing her readers with reliable, evidence-based answers to their many questions and concerns about their illness.
Nancy is the founder of the non-profit organization Depression Sanctuary, which provides a free, online peer support group for those with depression. She has served as its president since 2016.
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