Is it a thyroid disorder? Is it ADHD? Or both?
Many medical conditions share symptoms. You’ve undoubtedly heard before that iron and vitamin D deficiencies have symptoms that mimic the symptoms many see with hypothyroidism. But, how could ADHD be confused with a thyroid disorder?! Here’s how:
Check out some of the symptoms of Graves’ Disease (hyperthyroidism) in Children from the Graves’ Disease and Thyroid Foundation:
- nervousness — visible shakiness, tremors, wringing hands, kicking feet, difficulty sitting still
- lack of concentration and attentiveness
- poor memory skills
- shaky hands that cause clumsiness and poor handwriting
- erratic thought patterns and behaviors
- irritability; mood swings
- attitude changes
- emotional outbursts (i.e. crying or yelling)
- out-of-control or bizarre behaviors that require immediate help
Now, check out some of the symptoms of ADHD (hyperactive type) from WebMD.com:
- Constantly fidgets and squirms
- Often leaves his or her seat in situations where sitting quietly is expected
- Moves around constantly, often runs or climbs inappropriately
- Talks excessively
- Has difficulty playing quietly or relaxing
- Is always “on the go,” as if driven by a motor
- May have a quick temper or a “short fuse”
Here are some symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Mental fogginess
- Difficulty with short- and long-term memory
And finally, here are some symptoms of ADHD-Inattentive type from ADDitudemag.com:
- Has trouble staying focused; is easily distracted
- Appears not to listen when spoken to
- Has difficulty remembering things and following instructions
- Has trouble staying organized, planning ahead, and finishing projects
So, to sum up: nervousness, moodiness, forgetfulness and inattention are signs of both hyperthyroidism and ADHD and brain fog, inability to concentrate, memory issues, difficulty focusing and staying on task are symptoms of hypothyroidism and ADHD. I have heard from many adults and parents of children with thyroid disorders that it was initially suspected or assumed that ADHD was the cause of symptoms that either they or their children were experiencing.
The thyroid gland IS the metabolic center of your body. It controls so many of your body’s functions. It’s no wonder there are so many symptoms that can be linked to thyroid disorders. However, mistaking a thyroid disorder for ADHD can have serious consequences as the treatments for both are quite different. One interesting fact that I did find is that impulsivity is a symptom of many forms of ADHD but it is not typically reported as a symptom of thyroid disorders, so that may be helpful as you look to discern between the two health issues. (See Is It Your Thyroid or ADD?) A 1997 study revealed that: “thyroid tests were performed in 43 ADHD children and 28 age- and gender-matched controls” and “sixteen ADHD children showed total triiodothyronine (TT3) levels which were slightly above the upper limit of normal”. Interestingly the authors of this same study concluded that “lack of an association between thyroid function and ADHD, and counters the suggestion that thyroid function be routinely screened for in ADHD children”. (See Thyroid function in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Toren P, et al. J Psychiatr Res. 1997 May-Jun;31(3):359-63.) I’m surprised by this conclusion. 16 out of 43 ADHD kids in the study had TT3 levels above the normal limit. Given the cost, both financially and emotionally, of treating a child with ADHD, it sure seems to me that it would be worth checking thyroid levels prior to beginning treatment for ADHD.
Once you’ve ruled out thyroid disorders or other health issues, and you (or your child) still feel off (inability to concentrate, impulsivity, moodiness, memory issues, etc.), you should consult a psychologist or psychiatrist. If neither of those are accessible to you, talking with your general practitioner is an okay place to start. ADHD has many forms and not everyone has the same symptoms. If you think you may have ADHD, check out ADDitude – it has a wealth of resources. If you think your child has ADHD, you may also find Wrightslaw to be quite helpful.
As you know, it is possible to have both a thyroid disorder and a type of ADHD. In fact, I read one article about congenital hypothyroidism that suggested that ADHD can be a symptom of having too much L-thyroxine, in other words, if FT4 levels are too high, then the article suggests, that the child has an increased risk of experiencing ADHD symptoms. (See Management of CH). Additionally, two studies done in 1993 revealed that “attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder is strongly associated w ith generalized resistance to thyroid hormone.” (See Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in people with generalized resistance to thyroid hormone. Hauser P, et al, New England Journal of Medicine 1993 Apr 8;328(14):997-1001 and see Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and thyroid function. Weiss RE, et al, J Pediatr. 1993 Oct;123(4):539-45.). That’s just a snapshot of the research that is available on the topic. Parents of children with thyroid disorders, there is enough reason to stay on top of your child’s thyroid levels and talk openly with your child’s pediatric endocrinologist about the symptoms your child is experiencing.
My earliest school memories include being reprimanded for being distracted and having difficulty focusing. Those issues with concentration persisted all the way through law school and into adulthood until I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. While I still struggle with inattentiveness, it is different than brain fog, and I have learned as an adult to discern between the two and know that brain fog is significantly improved when my thyroid levels are in optimal range. October is ADHD Awareness Month, so I hope this leaves you more aware of the connection between ADHD and thyroid disorders.
By Blythe Clifford aka Thyroid Mom