We all get anxious sometimes. Perhaps you have a big exam, interview, or trip coming up. Or maybe you’re waiting for test results or moving to a new town. Even first dates and doctor’s appointments can cause anxiety! But when it comes out of the blue, don’t ignore it. This could be a sign of a more complex health problem.
It’s an anxiety disorder, right? Not always. While 18.1 percent of American adults are affected by anxiety disorders, there are many physical conditions that may cause anxiety as a symptom.1 In turn, it can be pretty darn hard to pinpoint.
Don’t let this list make you even more anxious, though. Pay attention to any other signs and symptoms, and be honest with your doctor. Together, you can get to the bottom of this mysterious anxiety.
Medical Diseases That Can Cause Anxiety
Hyperthyroidism develops when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. This hormone, as you know, controls major bodily processes like metabolic rate.
When thyroid hormone shoots up, so does metabolism. This causes intense feelings of anxiety, nervousness, and irritability. Mood swings, shaky hands, and sleeping trouble are also common. Your heartbeat might be so fast that it makes you do a double take!
Thyroid hormone can be checked with a simple blood test. In America, 1.2 percent of adults have it, while women are 2 to 10 times more likely than men to be diagnosed. The chances also increase if there’s a family history of thyroid disease.2
Anemia develops when your red blood cells don’t have enough hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein that carries oxygen. It can also happen if the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells to begin with.
In turn, organs don’t get enough oxygen, so the body tries to circulate available blood faster.3 This increases heart rate, a symptom that can be mistaken for anxiety. Headache, fatigue, and shortness of breath may also crop up.4
So is it anemia or the consequences of a long and stressful month? If your doctors suspects anemia, you’ll get a blood test to determine complete blood count, while more specific tests will determine the type.5
3. Heart Disease
If you’re at risk for heart disease – or already have it – take note of unexplained anxiety. It could be a warning of a more serious episode, even if you don’t have chest pain. In fact, a 2003 study in BMJ Found that only 30 percent of 515 women surveyed had chest discomfort before their heart attack.
Unusual fatigue was the most common symptom, coming in at 70 percent. Anxiety only affected 35 percent, but it’s certainly worth noting. Forty two percent had shortness of breath, while 39 percent had indigestion.
While it’s likely that anxiety is paired with other symptoms, do tell your doctor.6 It’s enough of a red flag to check your vitals and improve lifestyle choices.
4. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, develops from an imbalance of sex hormones. This throws menstruation for a loop, leading to infertility and ovarian cysts. Physical symptoms include acne, thin hair, weight gain, and hyperpigmentation.7
Aside from stressing about these symptoms, anxiety can show up on its own. Depression, anger, and aggression are also commonly reported. The reason? High levels of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone.8
Like heart disease, it’s unlikely that anxiety will be the only symptom. But if you’re also dealing with wonky periods and thinning hair, it is worth getting a hormone test.
5. Nutritional Deficiencies
Most people are quick to assume that a disease is at play. But sometimes, symptoms may be from a nutritional deficiency. For instance, low levels of zinc are associated with anxiety, depression, and various dementias. Most of it is stored in the brain, so these symptoms are no surprise.9 Women need 8 milligrams of zinc a day, while men need 11 milligrams.10
Deficiency of B vitamins like thiamin (B1) and pyridoxine (B6) can also cause irritability, nervousness, and depression.11 12 And don’t forget that anemia can also be caused by low iron, the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.13
A blood test can find the specific vitamin or mineral in question. If you’re getting enough through the diet, a doctor might look into digestive and absorption issues.
|↑1||Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults. National Institute of Mental Health.|
|↑2||Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑3||What Is Anemia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.|
|↑4||Anemia. American Hematology Association.|
|↑5||How Is Anemia Diagnosed? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.|
|↑6||Charatan, Fred. “Women with heart attacks have characteristic symptoms, says new study.” BMJ 327, no. 7424 (2003): 1128.|
|↑7||Polycystic ovary syndrome. WomensHealth.gov.|
|↑8||Weiner, Cindy L., Margaret Primeau, and David A. Ehrmann. “Androgens and mood dysfunction in women: comparison of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome to healthy controls.” Psychosomatic medicine 66, no. 3 (2004): 356-362.|
|↑9||Grønli, Ole, Jan Magnus Kvamme, Oddgeir Friborg, and Rolf Wynn. “Zinc deficiency is common in several psychiatric disorders.” PloS one 8, no. 12 (2013): e82793.|
|↑10||Zinc. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑11||Vitamin B1 (Thiamin). University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑12||Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine). University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑13||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. “Iron deficiency–United States, 1999-2000.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 51, no. 40 (2002): 897.|