Stress And Hyperthyroidism: A Dangerous Relationship

Stress and hyperthyroidism: a dangerous relationship

Stress and hyperthyroidism are closely related. We tend to underestimate the effects of chronic stress on our health. Cortisol, the hormone associated with states of hyperactivity and hypervigilance, can alter the functioning of the thyroid, not by speeding it up, but by compromising the adrenal glands.

As is known, disorders associated with the thyroid are very common and linked to various factors . For example, autoimmune conditions such as Graves-Basedow disease, pregnancy, changes in the pituitary gland, or an excess or deficiency of iodine can lead to the development of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

However, we are not always aware of how much our emotions can alter the metabolism. Studies such as the one published in the journal  Thyroid Researc h show that there is a relationship between cortisol and TSH (thyrotropin or thyroid stimulating hormone) levels. 

This means that stress is a risk factor for hyperthyroidism. Situations of pressure, anxiety and constant worry, which drag on for months or years, end up accelerating the thyroid gland.

stress and hyperthyroidism: doctor checks a patient's thyroid

Stress and hyperthyroidism, a dangerous relationship

There are numerous diagnoses of alteration of the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones preside over numerous functions; they are essential for the maintenance of body tissues and fulfill numerous metabolic tasks, including protein synthesis.

That’s why people with hyperthyroidism usually have a wide variety of symptoms, disorders and conditions, such as:

  • Nervousness and restlessness.
  • Mood swings, irritability.
  • Feeling of weakness.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Weight loss despite food anxiety.
  • Problems with memory and concentration.
  • Goiter, an obvious symptom associated with hyperthyroidism, characterized by swelling in the throat with difficulty swallowing, drinking or speaking.
  • Hair loss (which sometimes appears even thinner and more fragile).
  • Thinner skin.
  • Heat intolerance.
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Insomnia.
Tired woman with hand on forehead

It should be noted that thyroid related diseases are more common in women. Once a diagnosis is made, however, we don’t always stop to consider the causes of the disease. Naturally necessary treatment is of interest, a therapeutic strategy that allows to improve the quality of life.

Knowing that there is a direct relationship between stress and hyperthyroidism, it would instead be necessary to understand how it occurs and how it affects our body.

Stress and hyperthyroidism: the alteration of thyroid antibodies

Some Dutch universities funded in 2012 a large study on the relationship between stress and hyperfunction of the thyroid gland. The results, published in the journal  Psychoneuroendocrinology , are very interesting. For example, it is shown that in chronic situations of high stress and anxiety the cortisol we produce has a serious impact on our thyroid.

Thyroid antibodies are altered and begin to attack the body, causing changes in turn; fatigue, sleep and digestion disturbances, increased hair loss, more fragile skin appear. Cognitive and emotional changes, such as difficulty concentrating and sudden mood swings, are also common.

Research conducted in Chile and published in the Revista m├ędica de Chile similarly highlights surprising results: those suffering from panic attacks often also tend to develop a thyroid problem, which tends to accelerate, leading to classic hyperthyroidism. A comorbidity that usually has serious clinical repercussions.

Image of the neck showing the thyroid gland

Prevention of hyperthyroidism caused by stress

Hyperthyroidism (caused by stress and not) undoubtedly requires specific treatment: antithyroid drugs such as propylthiouracil and methimazole. Nevertheless, each patient has singularities and needs that the specialist must consider for an adequate and tailored response.

Beyond the treatment, it would be interesting to be able to prevent this condition. It remains clear that the trigger will not always be stress (autoimmune diseases are a reality), but considering that some mental states induce changes in the metabolism, it is necessary to take this into account and know how to manage them.

Some key points are:

  • Occasional, time-limited stress has no effect on our thyroid. Rather, we are talking about chronic, neglected, unaddressed stress that ultimately escapes our control. It is therefore necessary to pay attention, from time to time, to our worries, complex emotions, emotional discomforts. There is no need to postpone what worries us today until tomorrow.
  • Let us offer ourselves quality time. Every day we should be able to devote at least two hours to ourselves.
  • Exercise or meditation such as mindfulness are very effective remedies for stress.
  • Equally useful will be to take care of nutrition and improve life habits: rest, positive and quality social relationships.

In conclusion, knowing that stress and hyperthyroidism are closely related, you need to be more aware of your emotions and invest in health. Just as we get up, dress and comb each day, let’s remember to heal our complex inner universe.

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