By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated June 22, 2012)
Hyperthyroidism, caused by an overactive thyroid gland, can trigger panic attacks because there is significant overlap between the symptoms of hyperthyroidism and panic disorder.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism symptoms that overlap with panic attack symptoms include heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, and general nervousness. Additional hyperthyroidism symptoms include weight loss, difficulty sleeping, heat or cold sensitivity, muscle weakness, irritability, and irregularities in bowel movements and menstrual cycles.
Suwalska et al. (2005) report that thyroid-disordered patients suffer increased anxiety, irritability, and depression risk, and reduced overall quality of life.
Hyperthyroidism Prevalence and Risk Factors
Approximately 1% of those in the U.S. suffer from hyperthyroidism (around 300,000 people each year). It’s more common in women and people who are over 60 years of age, but men and younger people can also be afflicted with the condition (Formica, 2011).
Risk factors include eating a diet rich in iodine and having health problems such as Type 1 diabetes, primary adrenal insufficiency, autoimmune disease, pernicious anemia, or additional thyroid issues. Women who have recently been pregnant are also at heightened risk because pregnancy alters the state of the thyroid and for some unlucky individuals, it doesn’t normalize afterward. Thyroid dysfunction after pregnancy may be mistaken for post-partum depression.
Hyperthyroidism can usually be treated with medication. In extreme cases that don’t respond to medication, the thyroid gland can be surgically removed or destroyed using radioactive iodine, after which the individual must rely on thyroid replacement therapy.
Is It Hyperthyroidism, Panic Disorder, or Something Else?
Although hyperthyroidism can trigger anxiety and panic attack symptoms, there are a few things that often differentiate thyroid problems from other causes. Iacovides et al. (1999) found that thyroid patients suffer more somatic (body) symptoms and less mind-based anxiety, whereas anxious people with healthy thyroid glands are more inclined to report psychological symptoms such as a sense of “vague, imminent danger” or “fear of loneliness.”
Conducting a similar study, Demet et al. (2002) found that those with hyperthyroidism suffered from higher levels of psychomotor agitation (twitchiness), insomnia, weight loss, and cardiovascular symptoms than a normal-thyroid group.
If panic disorder or a general state of chronic nervousness comes on suddenly, it’s worth asking your doctor to check for hyperthyroidism, especially if you’ve been losing weight. Most anxious or panicky people don’t have hyperthyroidism, but given that the two disorders can go hand in hand, it’s a good idea to go in for a check-up.
There are other conditions that may also cause or exacerbate anxiety. See Conditions That Often Accompany Anxiety for more information.
For natural anxiety treatments, see the Anxiety and Panic Disorder page.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Medical concerns should be referred to a qualified doctor.
- Demet, M.M.; Ozmen, B.; Deveci, A.; Boyvada, S.; Adiguzel, H.; & Aydemir, O. (2002). “Depression and Anxiety in Hyperthyroidism.” Archives of Medical Research, 33(6), 552-556.
- Formica, M.J., MS, MA, EdM. (2011, December 12). “Anxiety Disorder or Hyperthyroidism?” Psychology Today, PsychologyToday.com.
- Iacovides, A.; Fountoulakis, K.N.; Grammaticos, P.; Vidalis, A.; Papvasiliou, I.; Goutsiou, K.; Kaprinis, G.; & Ierodiakonou, C. (1999). “Special Characteristics in Anxiety Manifestations of Hyperthyroidism.” Hellenic Journal of Nuclear Medicine, 3, 151-154.
- Nippoldt, T., MD. (n.d.). “Can Thyroid Disease Affect My Mood?” MayoClinic.com.
- Suwalska, A.; Lacka, K.; Lojko, D.; & Rybakowski, J.K. (2005). “Quality of Life, Depressive Symptoms and Anxiety in Hyperthyroid Patients.” Roczniki Akademii Medycznej w Białymstoku, 50(Suppl. 1), 61-63.