You Wanted to Know: Hyperthyroidism or Anxiety?


Anxious, shaky, tired and irritable? A lot of people (doctors included) might write these common complaints off as being due to too much stress or too little sleep. But if you can’t seem to shake these symptoms, ask your doctor if they could be due to a common thyroid disorder. Brandon asked us on Twitter for tips on how to distinguish between anxiety and hyperthyroidism:


Brandon is right – there is a big overlap between anxiety and hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism may initially present as anxiety and can even cause anxiety (by contrast, anxiety alone cannot cause hyperthyroidism).

In hyperthyroidism, the body produces too much thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is very powerful and affects nearly every organ system – for example, it can dramatically affect the body’s metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, muscle strength and digestive speed. Specifically, people suffering from hyperthyroidism may experience rapid heart rate, diarrhea and tremors and feel anxious, nervous, irritable and tired.

As you can see, many of these symptoms overlap with the symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety may also cause increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, weakness and fatigue, as well as nervousness and irritability.

However, there are other symptoms that make hyperthyroidism a much more likely diagnosis than an anxiety disorder. These include:

  • Sudden weight loss, especially if your appetite and food intake have been roughly the same as usual
  • Irregular heart rhythms or a heart rate that is often or consistently above 90-100 beats/min
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Swelling or lumps in the area of your thyroid (at the base of your throat)
  • Changes in your skin or hair (especially if it becomes thin and brittle)
  • Increased appetite
  • Bulging of your eyes or vision changes

Not everyone with hyperthyroidism will have these symptoms, and in some people, anxiety may be the only symptom. If you have a family history of hyperthyroidism or anxiety disorders, that may also give you a clue as to what you may be at increased risk for.

A simple blood test is all that’s needed to diagnose hyperthyroidism, so if you are concerned, visit your physician. Plus, regardless of whether you are suffering from anxiety or hyperthyroidism, your doctor may be able to help you feel better.