German researchers have discovered a significant link between autoimmune thyroiditis (AIT), also known as Hashimoto’s disease, and depression and anxiety disorders. In fact, patients with AIT may account for more than 40 percent of all cases of depression and 30 percent of all cases of anxiety, according to the findings.
The researchers recommend screening all patients diagnosed with depression and anxiety for autoimmune thyroiditis.
Autoimmune thyroiditis, which affects around 10 percent of the population, leads to long-term inflammation of the thyroid gland. Hormones from the thyroid influence the metabolism and cellular energy balance as well as perceived energy levels and the psyche.
AIT often leads to specific mental symptoms, including inner unrest, tension and exhaustion.
“Over the years, I must have been consulted by several hundred people suffering from depression and anxiety,” said researcher Dr. Teja Wolfgang Grömer, lecturer at the Chair of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU).
“At the end of 2015 I noticed a marked connection between AIT and the other two conditions, especially in patients suffering from both. After realising that more than one in two people diagnosed with anxiety and depression — and only in these cases, not other conditions — also tested positive for antibodies I decided to investigate the issue in more detail.”
For the study, the researchers drew up a systematic overview of the current state of research and statistically calculated the strength of the connection. Grömer combined 21 independent studies based on a total of 36,174 participants. He found that 35,168 of the participants suffered from depression and 34,094 from anxiety.
The statistics show that patients with AIT are 3.5 times more likely to suffer from depression, or 2.3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety. This means that patients with AIT account for more than 40 percent of all cases of depression and 30 percent of all cases of anxiety.
People tend to become ill between the ages of 30 and 50, with women being affected considerably more often than men. Since the condition often emerges around the same time as menopause and tends not to cause any specific pain, it is easy to miss the inflammation of the thyroid gland, or misdiagnose it as “menopausal symptoms” or depression or anxiety alone.
Grömer adds that “most patients felt a sense of relief after receiving the diagnosis, as very often they had been left with no explanation for their symptoms.”
Grömer recommends screening all patients diagnosed with depression and anxiety for AIT, determining which antibodies they have. If doctors can recognize the link between these disorders, they can prescribe a special treatment and use antidepressants that do not affect patients’ weight and the trace element selenium from an early stage.
In addition, in future psychiatric research on depression or anxiety, AIT sufferers should be recognized as a separate group in order to cast more light on the connections, researcher said.
Source: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg