Is It ADD/ADHD or Thyroid Disease?


The thyroid has substantial influence over numerous bodily functions including neurological and cognitive ability.

Research has shown that poor thyroid function has a strong connection to the development of ADD/ADHD. This relationship is perhaps best exemplified through their shared symptoms. Because of its significant influence regarding the occurrence of symptoms and the conditions themselves, optimizing thyroid function may significantly limit symptoms of attention disorders and aid in the resolution of ADD/ADHD.

What is ADD/ADHD?

Most are familiar with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Research shows that about 11% of American children between the ages of four and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD. Although it is more common among children, adults can also develop ADD/ADHD.

Both ADD and ADHD make it difficult to focus, learn, and socialize. These aspects can have a long-lasting impact on one’s education, relationships, and career. Unfortunately, there has been a significant increase in ADD/ADHD diagnoses in the past decade. Between 2003 and 2011, diagnosis of both conditions increased by 42%. A potential contributor of this impressive surge in attention disorders is a greater occurrence of thyroid disease.

Thyroid Disease and ADD/ADHD

The thyroid is responsible for regulating critical systems in the body including the heart, reproductive system, brain, and many others. This means that any sort of disturbance of thyroid activity can result in significant dysfunction. Unsurprisingly, thyroid disease can promote the occurrence of many chronic conditions including ADD/ADHD. Research shows that those with a generalized resistance to thyroid hormone are far more likely to have ADHD when compared to other family members with healthy thyroid function.

There are two primary forms of thyroid disease, both of which can promote symptoms commonly seen in ADD/ADHD.

Hypothyroidism, associated with reduced thyroid activity, may be caused by dysfunction of a broad selection of factors such as poor hormone conversion, nutrient deficiency, environmental factors, and more. It is estimated that 10 million Americans, the majority being women, have hypothyroidism. It is further approximated that one in five women will develop hypothyroidism by the age of 60.

As thyroid function declines, so to do many important bodily functions including metabolism, sleep quality, and cognitive ability. This results in a large collection of symptoms, many of which are shared with ADD/ADHD. The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism also experienced by those with ADD/ADHD are:

  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Malaise or disinterest
  • Poor memory
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Slurred words

Hyperthyroidism is on the other end of the spectrum of thyroid dysfunction. This condition is triggered by an overabundance of thyroid hormone or increased thyroid activity. As thyroid function continues to accelerate, so too does the rest of the body. This results in the development of multiple symptoms relating to or emulating ADD/ADHD such as the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Easily distracted
  • Excitability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Lack of appetite

If an ADD/ADHD patient exhibits hypothyroid or hyperthyroid symptoms in addition to their ADD/ADHD symptoms, it is likely that their attention disorder is triggered by thyroid dysfunction. Get a full list of thyroid disease symptoms here.

The Importance of Optimizing the Thyroid

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have widespread bodily impact. This has caused many thyroid patients to be misdiagnosed through the years and unfortunately have the true cause of their condition overlooked. Part of the problem is that thyroid disease not only exhibits symptoms of many other conditions but also contributes to the development of such conditions. Therefore, a thyroid patient may be correctly diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD but never have the root cause of their disorder recognized. It is common for patients to be treated with ADD/ADHD medications without any attention given to an existing thyroid disorder. This practice has caused many thyroid patients to continue to suffer from ADD/ADHD and thyroid symptoms even though they are receiving treatment.

Bringing the Thyroid into Balance

If an existing thyroid issue goes untreated, there is little hope for an ADD/ADHD patient to ever be truly free from their symptoms. In the case of thyroid-induced ADD/ADHD, optimizing thyroid function is essential to resolving the attention and neurological issues. There are various methods of treating thyroid disorders and the optimal choice will depend on individual patient factors.

Treating hypothyroid patients often involves thyroid hormone supplementation. The most commonly prescribed option is synthetic T4 (inactive thyroid hormone) in the form of levothyroxine. Although it is the most used thyroid medication it is often not the best option for many patients – find out why levothyroxine doesn’t work for most thyroid patients here. A large percentage of thyroid patients may benefit more from T3 (active thyroid hormone) treatments, which have an immediate impact on thyroid function and do not require conversion via the thyroid.

Doctors may also recommend bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). These thyroid hormones are identical to the human body’s naturally produced hormones than synthetic forms. These means the body can more effectively utilize them. Another benefit of BHRT is that it can be compounded to specific ratios of T4 and T3 depending on the patient’s needs. Efficacy of each treatment depends on various patient factors including T4 to T3 conversion, receptivity, absorption, and more.

Hyperthyroidism requires a different approach than hypothyroidism. Antithyroid drugs and radioactive iodine treatments attempt to reduce thyroid activity thereby limiting symptoms of hyperactivity and ADD/ADHD. Antithyroid drugs, as the name suggests, reduces thyroid function and limits production in an effort to normalize hormone levels.

Iodine is an essential part of thyroid hormone production and as such is utilized in great volume by the thyroid. Radioactive iodine treatments expose the thyroid to a controlled amount of radioactive iodine, which reduces the size and inhibits the functionality of the thyroid gland. This effectively slows its production to help maintain hormone balance.

Treating ADD/ADHD Through Optimizing the Thyroid

The thyroid is integral to many different aspects of health. Because of this, thyroid dysfunction can result in the development of various chronic conditions including ADD/ADHD. If a person is being treated for an attention disorder or other chronic disease but remains undiagnosed for an existing thyroid condition, it is highly unlikely that their situation will improve. If persistent symptoms of ADD/ADHD are caused by hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, they will only be resolved through proper treatment and optimization of the thyroid.

How to Help Kids With Working Memory Issues by Rae Jacobson

Parents Guide to ADHD Medications by Child Mind Institute

The Most Common Misdiagnoses in Children by Linda Spiro, PsyD

How to Spot Dyscalculia by Rae Jacobson

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Basics   by Child Mind Institute

How to Help Anxious Kids in Social Situations by Katherine Martinelli

Anxiety in the Classroom by Rachel Ehmke

The Benefits Of Unsupervised Play Will Make You Want To Back Off Your Kids' Activities In A Big Way  by Katie McPherson

How to Avoid Passing Anxiety on to Your Kids by Brigit Katz

3 Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks by  William Dodson, M.D.

Should emotions be taught in schools? by Grace Rubenstein

Why Do Kids Have Trouble With Transitions? by Katherine Martinelli