Patients with anxiety could have autoimmune inflammation of their thyroid that can be reduced by taking the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, ibuprofen, according to a new study.

In the study presented at European Society of Endocrinology Congress, the authors suggests that all patients with anxiety disorders have the function of their thyroid gland checked, since its disorders can lead to psycho-emotional disorders.

At present, up to 35% of the young population (25-60 years) in developed countries have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can have a severe impact of people's quality of life and ability to work and socialise, and anti-anxiety medication does not always have a lasting effect. Current examinations for anxiety disorders usually focus on dysfunction of the nervous system and do not take into account the role of the endocrine system.

The thyroid gland produces the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) that are essential for regulating heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. Autoimmune inflammation in the thyroid occurs when our bodies wrongly produce antibodies that attack the gland and causes damage. Recent studies indicate that anxiety disorders can be associated with the dysfunction of the thyroid gland. Therefore, it is important to understand how this may contribute to anxiety, so that patients can be treated more effectively.

Understanding the role of the endocrine system in the development of anxiety

The study investigated thyroid function in 29 men (average age 33.9) and 27 women (average age 31.7) with diagnosed anxiety, who were experiencing panic attacks. Ultrasounds of their thyroid glands assessed thyroid function and levels of thyroid hormones were measured.

The patients with anxiety showed signs of inflammation of their thyroid glands but their function was not affected, with thyroid hormone levels all within the normal range, although slightly elevated. They also tested positive for antibodies directed against the thyroid. Treatment for 14 days with ibuprofen and thyroxine reduced thyroid inflammation, normalised thyroid hormone levels and reduced their anxiety scores.

Dr Juliya Onofriichuk from Kyiv City Clinical Hospital, lead author, said: "These findings indicate that the endocrine system may play an important role in anxiety. Doctors should also consider the thyroid gland and the rest of the endocrine system, as well as the nervous system, when examining patients with anxiety."

This knowledge could help patients with anxiety receive more effective treatment that improves thyroid function and could have a long-term positive effect on their mental health. However, sex and adrenal gland hormones were not taken in to account in this study, and these can also have a serious effect on anxiety.

Dr Onofriichuk now plans to conduct further research that examines the levels of thyroid, sex and adrenal hormones (cortisol, progesterone, prolactin, oestrogen and testosterone) in patients with dysfunctional thyroid glands and anxiety disorders. This research aims to help understand more clearly the role of the endocrine system in the development of anxiety and could lead to better management of anxiety disorders.