OCD and Thyroid: What’s the link?

Dr Karishma Shaikh
Dr Karishma ShaikhMarch 23, 2023

For Smita, it all began when she was around 17 years old. The COVID-19 pandemic had not hit yet, but Smita experienced a bad bout of pneumonia and was in the hospital for almost 2 weeks.

That made her existing worries even worse. Every time she touched the doorknob, she had to wash her hand at least 3-times. She kept checking that her cupboard was well-stocked with cough drops, antibiotics, cough syrups, and inhalers. She visited the general physician every time she had a small bout of the common cold. OCD and Thyroid Problems

She was managing it all until college began and she had to live on her own in a different city.

That’s when her intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors worsened, and she felt tired all day long. Finally, her roommate suggested that she visit a psychiatrist.

Her diagnosis was quite black and white – she had generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The doctor immediately prescribed a thyroid profile and liver function test before he would give any medication for her OCD.

Today, it’s common knowledge for doctors that thyroid and OCD, or other mental health disorders such as depression have a direct link. Join Thyroid Community/

Her thyroid profile showed severe hypothyroidism. As soon as she began taking medication for her thyroid problems, she felt a relief she hadn’t felt in years. Her psychiatrist recommended her to a behavioral therapist for behavior modification therapy.

And that’s how, right now, Smita has a well-paying job. She is finally going out again, meeting new people, and making new friends.

So, let’s learn a little more about OCD and thyroid.

What Is OCD?

According to DSM 5, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) consists of a pattern of unwanted fears and thoughts (obsessions) and resulting repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Not following through with the compulsions almost always results in anxiety and even panic attacks.

This definition is not enough as it does not portray the distress of the person experiencing these negative thoughts and fears. DSM 5 does not list any particular causes for these behavior patterns.

And we already know that without the root cause, there can be no proper treatment.

So, even if we say that modern psychiatry and psychology have advanced. It helps improve the entire well-being of the person, it is far from becoming a holistic science.

What’s The Link Between OCD and Thyroid Hormones?

According to recent research, thyroid hormones may have a significant role to play in mental health. Thyroid hormones dictate the development of nerve pathways.

Did you know? Your brain is full of thyroid hormone receptors. These are mainly for the T3 (triiodothyronine) hormone. And these receptors play crucial roles in neurotransmission.

It is absolutely mandatory for all doctors working in psychiatry or clinical psychology to test the patient’s thyroid profile before prescribing any medication.

Now, it's common knowledge among all psychiatrists and clinical psychologists that chronic hypothyroidism can cause depressive episodes, panic attacks, and generalized anxiety and even make the symptoms of OCD much worse.

The role of the thyroid in mental health disorders is not as straightforward as in most deficiency diseases. Changes in the thyroid status of a person can not only affect their physical health but also adversely affect their mental health status.

How Are Hypothyroidism and OCD related?

Thyroid dysfunctions affect central noradrenergic neurotransmission. In simpler terms, the lack of enough thyroid hormone molecules increases dopamine levels in several parts of the brain.

Although dopamine is the molecule that keeps us feeling happy and energetic, too much of it can lead to chronic behavioral changes. These changes may include –

  • Compulsive behavior
  • Gambling problems
  • Addiction
  • ADHD
  • Binge eating disorder

Some studies say that a family history of mental health disorders increases the risk of OCD in a person. However, it is clear as day that thyroid hormones have a huge role to play in the presentation of clinical symptoms of the disease.

Is there a Link between Hyperthyroidism and OCD?

There’s no doubt that thyroid and OCD are linked. Hypothyroidism can make OCD symptoms much worse. However, there are currently no studies to indicate a relationship between hyperthyroidism and OCD.

Hyperthyroidism may cause irritability, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, memory problems, and low concentration levels. Severe and chronic hyperthyroidism can lead to mania, delirium, and major depressive episodes. Nonetheless, there is no literature to show any link between OCD and hyperthyroidism.

What Should You Do If You Have Hypothyroidism and OCD-like traits?

If you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's thyroiditis, speak to your psychiatrist today! The correct dose of thyroid medication can show massive improvements in the treatment you are currently receiving for OCD.

Most importantly, simply taking medication for OCD doesn’t work. You should seek out a trained cognitive behavioral therapist and support groups. Both of these will help you heal.

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