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Hypothyroidism and Depression

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Although they're two separate diseases, depression is sometimes a symptom of hypothyroidism, which happens when your thyroid gland doesn't make enough of the thyroid hormone. Medication to boost your low thyroid levels can get rid of your hypothyroidism symptoms, including depressed mood.

Some symptoms of hypothyroidism and depression are similar, so doctors sometimes overlook the possibility that someone who is depressed may have low thyroid levels as well.

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If you have hypothyroidism, you may have symptoms of fatigue, sluggishness, trouble concentrating, and sleeping too much. Those may lead to feelings of depression. At the same time, you could have other symptoms linked to low thyroid levels, including:

  • Slower heart rate
  • Sensitive to cold
  • Joint or muscle pain or cramps
  • Tingling in the hands and fingers
  • Vague aches and pains
  • Modest weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Dryness or yellowing of the skin
  • Brittle or thick nails
  • Hoarse voice
  • Swelling in front of the neck
  • Hair thinning or loss

Linking Hypothyroidism With Depression

To help doctors figure out if your depression is due to hypothyroidism, you need to be screened for thyroid disorders. Blood tests can confirm it by showing a low level of thyroxine (a thyroid hormone) and a high level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Studies show that if you have both hypothyroidism and depression, rather than relying on antidepressants, your depressive symptoms may improve with thyroid-replacement medications such as levothyroxine. These increase levels of two major thyroid hormones in the body: triiodothyronine (also called T3) or thyroxin (T4). When thyroid pills lower TSH levels to the normal range, the symptoms of depression often improve.

Getting Help

If you're feeling depressed, see your doctor. Because both hypothyroidism and depression can be treated, a proper diagnosis -- including blood tests to measure how much thyroid hormone your body is making -- is an important first step toward managing your symptoms. If they get worse, see your doctor right away.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on January 14, 2015
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