Anxiety is a serious mental health issue. According to the National Mental Health Survey of India of 2015-2016, 13.7 percent of people have declining physical and mental health throughout their life. Anxiety can have a severe impact on the quality of life and ability to work or socialise.
While there is no single cause of anxiety, multiple factors such as life experiences or chemical imbalances in the brain can result in anxiety disorders.
In a recent study, presented at the online meeting of the European Society of Endocrinology 2020, scientists found that patients with autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid gland may be at higher risk of developing anxiety.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland present in the throat below Adam’s apple. It produces two hormones, T3 (thyroxine) and T4 (triiodothyronine) and is regulated by the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The thyroid gland helps in the regulation of various body functions such as monitoring heart, muscle and digestive functions, development of the brain and maintenance of bone health.
Autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid gland, also called autoimmune thyroiditis, occurs when the immune cells attack the thyroid gland, damaging the gland and resulting in less production of thyroid hormones in the body.
The link between thyroiditis and anxiety
Dr Juliya Onofriichuk, along with other researchers from the Kyiv City Clinical Hospital, Ukraine, examined the thyroid function of 29 men and 27 women who were diagnosed with anxiety and presented with panic attacks. The researchers took ultrasounds of their thyroid glands, measured the levels of thyroid hormones in their blood and also performed an antithyroid antibody test which is specifically done to find out the presence of antibodies against thyroid peroxidase or thyroglobulin and confirms the presence of autoimmune thyroiditis.
The results of the test showed that patients with anxiety showed the presence of inflammation in the ultrasound and also presented with antibodies against the thyroid gland. However, the level of thyroid hormones was either within the normal range or slightly elevated.
When the researchers treated these people with thyroxine and ibuprofen (a painkiller) for 14 days, the thyroid inflammation was reduced and the thyroid hormone levels reached normal range. The scientists noted that once the inflammation of the thyroid gland reduced, the anxiety scores reduced simultaneously.
The scientists believe that the endocrine system can have an important role to play in anxiety. Doctors should not only examine the thyroid gland but the entire endocrine and nervous system while diagnosing patients with anxiety. This may help better treat anxiety disorders which are currently being managed with the help of anti-anxiety medications that do not prove beneficial in the long run.
For more information, read our article on Autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s disease).
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