Thyroid and Mood

Colette Dowling, LCSW

NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW, author of the following article on thyroid-and-mood, has written many books on womens' psychological issues, including, "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction.

The low-thyroid-and-mood problem can creep in stealthily, on cat's feet. Eventually you wake up one day with the feeling  "Something's not right."

If you suspect a thyroid-and-mood problem, you may have noticed a desire to sleep more (hypothyroidism).  affected. You may be cold all the time. Your brain functions as if you were in a fog. You're gaining weight and can't figure out why. All of these may be signs of a medical condition known as yypothyroidism.

When I first discovered I had hypothyroidism I'd become so foggy and fatigued I could barely stay awake at my computer. I was tired when I woke up in the morning, tired in the afternoon, tired at night. The situation had been worsening for months. I blamed it on menopause and was more or less resigning myself to functioning at 50% when a persistent doctor decided to test me and found my thyroid levels were off. He put me on he proper medication and my life went back to normal in just a few weeks. What an eye-opener! I'd been getting ready for the old age home when what I really had was a thyroid condition.

Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid, develops when the thyroid gland isn't producing enough of the hormone thyroxine, which controls the way the body uses energy. The thyroid gland affects virtually all body systems. Those with low thyroid may have chronic fatigue, cold extremities, thinning hair, hoarseness, weight gain.

Women's vulnerability to thyroid-and-mood problems increases with age. But young women, too, can have thyroid issues. Though older women are the most vulnerable, younger women can have thyroid problems that may even interfere with their getting pregnant. In rare cases, hypothyroidism occurs in infants and children. Untreated in infants it can cause brain damage, leading to mental retardation and developmental delays. Today, every state in the U.S. tests newborns for hypothyroidism.

When hypothyroidism goes untreated it can eventually cause severe complications, including fluid around the heart and an increase in cholesterol and triglycerides (which in turn increase the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke). Severe hypothyroidism can cause a life-threatening condition called myxedema coma. In the days of psychiatric asylums, many of the patients on the back wards were thought to be cretins when actually the cause of their condition was untreated hypothyroidism. These poor folks lived their lives undiagnosed and untreated. Fortunately medicine has gotten ahead of this illness, but still, too many people are suffering from undiagnosed thyroid problems when they could be leading healthier, happier lives.

What are the symptoms of low thyroid?

In adults, symptoms usually develop gradually and are often misinterpreted as a natural result of the aging process. Symptoms may include:

Coarse and thinning hair. Brittle nails. Dry skin. A yellowish tint to the skin. Slow body movements and speech. Inability to tolerate cold. Feeling tired, sluggish, or weak. Memory problems, depression, or difficulty concentrating. Constipation. Heavy or irregular menstrual periods that may last longer than 5 to 7 days. Other, less common symptoms may include an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), modest weight gain, a hoarse voice, muscle aches and cramps, a puffy face, and swelling of the arms, hands, legs, and feet.

What causes hypothyroidism?

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in this country. Other causes include surgical removal of the thyroid gland, radioactive iodine therapy, and thyroiditis after childbirth.

How is the illness diagnosed?

If you or your health professional think you may have low thyroid, or hypothyroidism, you will need blood tests to measure your thyroid hormones. If you have no or mild symptoms of hypothyroidism and blood tests show slightly abnormal levels of thyroid hormone, you may have mild (subclinical) hypothyroidism.Pay attention because even mild hypothyroidism can cause fatigue and lowered mood ad well as other problems.

Simply, hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid hormone medication. Symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks after treatment begins.

Signs of thyroid being too high (known as hyperthyroidism) are jitteriness, eyeballs that may bulge slightly, racing heart. This condition, too, is readily treatable. Though it is not as prevalent in women as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism can cause problems with mood, weight, sleep and cognition. This conidtion, too, is readily treatable.

Can I prevent it?

You can't prevent thyroid problems from happening, but you can watch for signs of the disease so you can get it treated promptly. The American Thyroid Association recommends that all adults be tested for thyroid disease beginning at age 35.

NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW, is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of women. She has a private practice in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.

Colette is a graduate of The Smith College School for Social Work and has completed advanced training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, in New York. In addition she is trained in EMDR and other modalities for treating the effects of trauma.

Colette has written many books on women's psychological and health issues, including The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence, and "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel this Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction.

If you are interested in more information on thyroid issues or would like a therapy consultation with Colette, write, or call 718-594-0201.

To hear Colette speak about what it's like starting therapy with someone new, click on the button.

Information on Colette's therapy practice can be found at Psychology Today.

Further information on thyroid issues and women's mental health issues can be found at Colette's website.

Copyright Colette Dowling, 2006-2010