According to a new study published by the European Endocrinology Society, the endocrine system – especially the thyroid gland – may play an important role in the development of anxiety disorders in some people. The study focused on an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland and causes it to become inflamed. This inflammation has proven to be a driver of anxiety experienced by some people, opening the door to new treatments.
The thyroid gland is the largest endocrine gland in adults and is located at the front of the neck; The two main hormones it produces are called T3 and T4, both of which play an important role in a person’s overall health. Too little thyroid hormone can cause everything from extreme fatigue to heart disease, while too much thyroid hormone can cause everything from anxiety to stroke or heart attack.
There are many types of thyroid diseases and disorders, including autoimmune conditions called Hashimoto’s thyroid disease. In this case, the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to become inflamed and enlarge. Over time, the thyroid gland is damaged, resulting in a slow decline in the production of T3 and T4.
According to a new study published by the European Society of Endocrinology, this autoimmune thyroiditis increases a person’s risk of developing anxiety disorders — which can remain undetected for years before symptoms become so severe that they need to be diagnosed. The study involved 27 women with an average age of 31 and 29 men with an average age of 34. All participants had anxiety and panic attacks; similarly, all participants were assessed for potential thyroid dysfunction, including thyroid ultrasound and thyroid hormone blood tests.
Despite a normal range of thyroid hormone levels and normal thyroid function, anxious participants were found to have signs of thyroid inflammation and antibodies against the glands. Because thyroid hormone levels are considered normal and function is not affected, the problem of thyroid inflammation caused by the immune system is essentially “silent” and is difficult to detect without direct investigation.
The results suggest that people with anxiety disorders may benefit from having their thyroid gland and the broader endocrine system evaluated with the nervous system, which is most associated with anxiety disorders.
As part of the study, participants with thyroid inflammation were given a common over-the-counter painkiller, ibuprofen, for 14 days and, if necessary, thyroxine. Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that helps reduce inflammation caused by autoimmune problems. After testing, the researchers found that reducing inflammation also reduced anxiety scores after two weeks.
The researchers noted that the study had some limitations, including not taking into account participants’ levels of sex hormones and adrenaline hormones, which also play a big role in the anxiety experience. Such hormones include hormones such as cortisol levels, testosterone, estrogen, oxytocin and progesterone.
More research is needed to understand the link between endocrine problems and anxiety and overall mental health. However, these findings do provide a new avenue of exploration for doctors trying to identify the root causes of patient anxiety, as well as a potential temporary treatment as an intervention until longer-term solutions can be implemented.