Hyperthyroidism and depression can cause similar symptoms, such as loss of appetite and sleeping difficulties. Many people with hyperthyroidism may also experience changes to their mental health.

The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that produces hormones to regulate various bodily processes, such as body temperature and digestion. Problems with thyroid functioning can cause a wide range of symptoms because it affects many bodily functions. For example, hyperthyroidism refers to when the body produces too many thyroid hormones.

Many symptoms of hyperthyroidism can overlap with symptoms of depression and anxiety. These mental health conditions can cause persistent feelings of sadness or tension. This overlap is because problems with the thyroid and thyroid hormones can lead to changes in mood.

This article will discuss the links between hyperthyroidism and mental health conditions, such as depression.

A person laying in bed.Share on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is overactive and produces too much thyroxine (T4) hormone. Excess T4 affects energy regulation in the body, which can cause bodily processes to speed up. Conversely, hypothyroidism is when the gland is underactive and produces an insufficient amount of T4.

The T4 hormone influences many bodily processes, meaning that high levels can cause various symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • sleeping difficulties
  • excessive sweating
  • rapid heartbeat
  • weight loss

Some people may mistake the symptoms of hyperthyroidism for depression. This is because thyroid problems can cause the same symptoms as depression. These shared symptoms are more common in older adults with an overactive thyroid, as they may present with different symptoms. In this demographic, hyperthyroidism may cause loss of appetite or withdrawal from people.

Researchers are still unclear on the exact cause of depression but note that a number of factors may contribute. These factors can include:

  • changes in certain chemicals in the brain
  • genetics
  • certain personality traits
  • environmental factors, such as exposure to negative life events

Hyperthyroidism and depression are both common conditions. For example, depression is the most common mental health condition in the United States. It affects 8.4% of people in the U.S. over the age of 18.

Additionally, around 1 in 100 people in the U.S. aged 12 and over have hyperthyroidism.

As such, the conditions can be comorbid. This term refers to when health conditions occur at the same time as each other. For example, a 2022 review finds that people with hyperthyroidism were 67 times more likely to have depression.

Similarly, depression and anxiety are more common among people with hyperthyroidism who were assigned female at birth. A 2019 study also suggests an association between hyperthyroidism and mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Other research associates Graves’ disease, the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the U.S., with a greater risk of suicide and self-harm.

However, not all studies on the topic produce similar results. For example, a 2020 review found no link between hyperthyroidism and depression. Furthermore, some evidence notes that an overactive thyroid is more likely to cause anxiety. In contrast, an underactive thyroid more commonly causes depression.

The link between the two conditions may be due to sharing some biological mechanisms. For example, higher levels of thyroid hormones could affect energy regulation. In turn, this could cause common symptoms of depression, such as sleep problems and weight changes.

However, current studies highlight the need for further research to better understand the relationship between the two conditions.

Hyperthyroidism and depression can both cause a range of symptoms. Many people with depression may experience symptoms that include:

  • persistent low mood
  • feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • irritability and restlessness
  • reduced energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • sleep problems
  • changes in appetite and weight
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are highly variable depending on the person. However, they can include:

  • irritability
  • sleep problems
  • weight and appetite changes
  • frequent bowel movements
  • goiters
  • muscle weakness and shakes
  • trouble regulating temperature
  • fast or irregular heartbeat

Several symptoms of hyperthyroidism and depression overlap, including:

  • Sleep difficulties: Depression can cause difficulties for people getting to sleep or remaining awake during the day. People with hyperthyroidism may experience problems sleeping due to changes in body temperature or needing to urinate throughout the night.
  • Appetite and weight changes: Depression and hyperthyroidism can cause changes to a person’s appetite that may influence weight loss or weight gain.
  • Fatigue: Depression and hyperthyroidism can cause fatigue that may make getting out of bed or performing daily activities a challenge.
  • Irritability and restlessness: People with either condition may experience fluctuations in mood, which can include feeling irritable and restless.
  • Digestive problems: Depression can cause stomach cramps and digestive problems without a clear physical cause. Hyperthyroidism can cause more frequent bowel movements.

Doctors typically diagnose depression by asking about symptoms. There are currently no reliable blood, imaging, or other clinical tests to diagnose depression.

In contrast, doctors do not diagnose hyperthyroidism by assessing symptoms alone. They use function tests, which measure blood for thyroid hormones. Additionally, imaging tests can help diagnose hyperthyroidism. These tests will tell doctors how the thyroid is functioning. An overproduction of thyroid hormones is a sign of hyperthyroidism.

Doctors will also ask about hyperthyroidism symptoms. However, these can vary substantially between people and overlap with many other conditions, including depression.

In some cases, a doctor may mistake hyperthyroidism for depression in older adults. Overlapping symptoms are more common in this demographic, including sleep problems, irritability, and fatigue. Conditions such as depression are typically a more common cause of these symptoms.

Lab tests are able to distinguish between depression and thyroid conditions.

There are many types of medications for treating hyperthyroidism. For example, beta-blockers can reduce some symptoms of the condition. However, they have no effect on thyroid hormone production. Certain side effects can resemble depression, such as fatigue, sleeping difficulties, and digestive issues.

Antithyroid medications can help treat hyperthyroidism by reducing thyroid hormone production. This can help reduce some symptoms. However, certain thyroid medications may interact with lithium (Lithobid), a treatment option for depression.

Hyperthyroidism results from an overproduction of thyroid hormones, which can cause a wide range of symptoms. Some evidence suggests that the condition may increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as depression. Additionally, several symptoms of depression can also occur with hyperthyroidism, such as fatigue and sleep problems.