Is it Your Thyroid or ADHD?

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

We have been getting more member questions lately about whether or not thyroid problems could cause symptoms of ADHD or if there is any overlap between these two disorders. I am hoping that our members can help us in our exploration of this topic. I have been searching for the available information on this association between thyroid problems and ADHD and there just doesn't seem to be much out there in the way of research but I will share what I have found.

Our Eileen Bailey has written previously about medical conditions which share symptoms with ADHD. Thyroid dysfunction can cause symptoms such as the inability to concentrate and memory problems. These symptoms are similar to ADHD symptoms of inattention and forgetfulness.

In researching the similarities between symptoms of thyroid dysfunction and ADHD symptoms I found some interesting articles and research including the ones listed below:

  • A 2007 Discover article entitled, Misdiagnosing ADHD, author Mark Cohen describes the case of a 12-year old girl whose mother was worried that she was showing signs of having ADHD. In what could be a story line right out of the medical drama, House, Cohen struggles over an appropriate diagnosis for the young patient who presents with difficulties at school including inattention and disorganization. Yet in exploring further, it is found that her difficulties began within the past year of being seen and she did not have enough of the symptoms of ADHD to warrant a diagnosis. Her lab tests showed that she may have resistance to thyroid hormone, which can cause ADHD symptoms but is rare. In the end they found that the girl had early symptoms of Grave's disease which causes hyperthyroidism. Some of these symptoms may include hyperactivity, nervousness, moodiness, forgetfulness, and inattention. When treated for her thyroid problem, her problems at school disappeared.

  • In 1997 Science Daily reported on research showing a link between hyperactivity and thyroid hormones. University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers found a positive correlation between elevated levels of certain thyroid hormones and hyperactivity/impulsivity in a select group of patients. They looked at patients who had resistance to thyroid hormone, a thyroid disease characterized by elevated levels of serum T3 and T4. They found that high concentrations of T3 and T4 were significantly and positively correlated with hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms but not with symptoms of inattention.

Coincidence? It is anybody's guess.
(Please note that this was not a scientific study but merely an inquiry from a member on a forum and no formal conclusions can be made.)

Thyroid problems and ADHD symptoms is a correlation which may need more study to fully understand the implications. It can be very confusing to understand if there is any association between these two disorders and what it means. In the meantime here is some information about hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism means that you do not have enough thyroid hormones. The symptoms of hypothyroidism in adults may include:

  • Lack of energy

  • A constant tired feeling

  • Mental fogginess

  • Difficulty with short- and long-term memory

  • Constipation

  • Abnormal sensitivity to cold temperatures, which can develop gradually

  • Muscle cramps and stiffness

  • Weight gain (often in spite of a poor appetite)

  • Dry skin and hair

  • Hair loss

  • Psychiatric symptoms, including depression

Hyperthyroidism means that you are producing too much thyroid hormone in your body. Below are some of the potential mental and physical symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

  • Nervousness

  • Mental impairment, memory lapses, diminished attention span

  • Irritability

  • Trembling hands

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Diarrhea

  • Itchy skin

  • Unexplained weight loss despite increased appetite

  • Heart palpitations

  • Increased sweating

  • Muscle weakness

  • Hair loss

These are just some of the symptoms of a possible thyroid problem. If you suspect that you are experiencing some of these symptoms it is wise to get it checked out by your doctor.

Now we want to hear from you. How many of you have ADHD and a thyroid disorder? Do you find that there is any overlap of symptoms between the two disorders? Let us hear your story. You just may help someone else who is facing similar issues.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."