It seems like common sense that psychological problems require psychological solutions. If anxiety is interfering in your life, then surely the appropriate treatment is psychotherapy or anxiety medication, right?
In reality, though, other medical conditions can sometimes masquerade as psychiatric conditions. Hyperthyroidism can cause anxiety, and vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause paranoia, to give only two examples.
What that means is that when you’re being evaluated for symptoms that seem to have a psychological origin, it’s worth keeping in mind that a trip to your physician might be helpful.
Any psychiatric symptoms can be caused by medical conditions, but there are a few signs that what’s causing your problems might not be all in your head, so to speak.
One is if you develop symptoms out of the blue. For instance, if you develop paranoia and hallucinations with no personal or family history of psychosis, that certainly doesn’t mean a psychiatric disorder is out of the question, but it does mean it could be worth exploring the possibility that an underlying medical condition is to blame.
Another is late age of onset. Developing symptoms later in life for a psychiatric disorder that typically shows up early in life again points to a possible non-psychiatric cause.
This is especially true for people in their late sixties or later, an age when dementia becomes more common. Irrational behavior, anger, mood swings and anxiety are all possible early signs of dementia.
In all these cases, a visit to your medical doctor in addition to your psychiatrist or psychotherapist is more than worth the extra effort. Untangling the root cause is important – in fact, it’s necessary for gaining access to the treatment that will make a difference in your life.
In these Ask the Therapist videos, Marie Hartwell-Walker and Daniel J. Tomasulo talk about three different situations where people with non-psychiatric medical disorders can present with psychiatric symptoms. Watch the videos below, and see the Psych Central YouTube channel for more information about different symptoms: