Can stress cause thyroid problems?

Can Stress Cause Thyroid Problems?

Medically reviewed on January 7, 2022. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Stress is something most people have felt, though it’s a more complex concept than you might realize. Small amounts of stress may actually be beneficial, but most people in the modern world deal with excess, chronic forms of stress that can severely impact their health and well-being. Stress can affect nearly all aspects of health, and many people wonder if it can contribute to thyroid problems. Read on to learn more about the connections between stress and the thyroid below.

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The Thyroid Gland

Your thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system. This small gland, located at the front of your neck, is responsible for producing and secreting thyroid hormones. These hormones play a variety of roles, but they are primarily involved in controlling and regulating your metabolism, which is how your body processes food and converts it into usable energy. Thyroid hormones also play a role in maintaining bones, supporting digestive function, and controlling the heart and muscles [1].

An underactive or overactive thyroid gland can contribute to imbalanced hormone production. These thyroid conditions can cause instabilities in the body’s thyroid hormone levels, which can then affect various aspects of your thyroid health and overall health. Thyroid problems can be caused by numerous factors, including certain medications and autoimmune diseases [1]. If you suspect thyroid problems, try out an at-home thyroid test.

Understanding Stress

Stress is a natural, instinctive response designed for survival. In its most basic form, stress sets off your fight-or-flight response, which helps your body determine whether it should stay and fight or run away [2].

While this response is vital in moments of mental and physical trauma, it can be less important or even damaging in everyday situations. That becomes even more harmful as you experience chronic stress from work, home, or other aspects of life. Stressful events trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, the main stress hormone. This hormone is responsible for various physiological effects, like increasing your heart rate, reducing digestive function, and suppressing the reproductive system. Essentially, it shuts down functions that would be considered nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation [2].

Unfortunately, if you’re dealing with chronic stress, you can experience a constant, long-term malfunction that disrupts nearly all of your basic processes. Chronic stress can lead to:

  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Pain and tension in the muscles
  • Weight gain
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory, concentration, and general cognitive issues
  • Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, or high blood pressure [2]

Stress and the Thyroid

While chronic stress can have all-encompassing effects on the body, it surprisingly doesn’t trigger thyroid problems. However, if you have existing thyroid issues or an underlying thyroid condition that you didn’t know about, stress can potentially exacerbate those issues and contribute to more severe thyroid symptoms, such as thyroid fatigue [3].

Much of this comes down to the hormones involved with stress and the thyroid. Any hormonal imbalances can cause a domino effect with all of the other hormones in your body. With excess cortisol in your system, your thyroid may work even harder to create more thyroid hormones leading to an overactive thyroid disorder [4].

The exception here is a rare autoimmune condition called a thyroid storm. This autoimmune condition stems from extreme amounts of physical stress or trauma, like a heart attack, childbirth, or surgery, and can cause a thyroid storm. Symptoms of a thyroid storm may include:

  • High fever
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Impaired mental state, resulting in confusion or dementia4

A thyroid storm can be potentially life threatening if the thyroid disorder is left untreated [4].

If you are worried about any underlying thyroid problems that could be triggered by stress, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare provider or get tested, like with the Everlywell at-home thyroid test.

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1. Thyroid gland. You and Your Hormones. URL. Accessed January 7, 2022.

2. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 7, 2022.

3. How Stress Affects Your Thyroid. HealthCentral. URL. Accessed January 7, 2022.

4. How Stress Affects Thyroid Problems. Everyday Health. URL. Accessed January 7, 2022.

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