Do Thyroid Disorders Cause Forgetfulness and Brain Fog? (2022)

Thyroid disorders can cause difficulty with energy, concentration, and memory—often described as "brain fog.".

This article explains the link between thyroid function and memory, as well as how hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (high thyroid function) can mimic the symptoms of dementia.

Do Thyroid Disorders Cause Forgetfulness and Brain Fog? (1)

Thyroid and Memory

Your thyroid gland, which is located in your neck, produces hormones that regulate growth and development. If the thyroid gland is not functioning well, many problems can result. They include extreme fatigue, weight loss or weight gain, rapid heartbeat, and hair loss.

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can also cause cognitive problems that can mimic symptoms of mild dementia.

Thyroid Disease

What Is Dementia?

Dementia refers to several conditions that cause a decline in memory and cognitive skills needed to perform the basic activities of daily living. Alzheimer's disease is the most well-known type of dementia.

The early symptoms of dementia can vary from one person to another.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Misplacing objects
  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Impaired reasoning and judgment
  • Memory problems
  • Mood changes
  • Impairment of communication and language
  • Altered visual perception

Symptoms of mild dementia sometimes develop when thyroid levels are abnormal, and they usually resolve with treatment.

Cognitive Symptoms in Hypothyroidism

Women are three times more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism—a medical condition in which the body does not produce enough thyroid hormones.

Cognitive symptoms of people with hypothyroidism include memory problems and difficulty concentrating.

Researchers aren't entirely certain why these issues surface, but they do know that "hypothyroidism affects memory because thyroid hormones play a role in brain areas that are crucial for our memories and cognitive skills." And when production of the thyroid hormone slows down, some people can experience vague symptoms often described as "brain fog."

Small changes in executive functioning have also been noted in untreated or under-treated hypothyroidism. Executive functioning includes abilities such as planning, impulse control, and making decisions.

(Video) Thyroid Memory Loss and Forgetfulness - Keep your mind sharp!

Cognitive Symptoms in Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormone than your body needs.

Some people with hyperthyroidism, such as Graves' disease, commonly experience poor concentration, slower reaction times, decreased spatial organization, and memory lapses.

Treatment of Thyroid Disease

Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for those with thyroid problems, including medication:

  • People with hypothyroidism are often prescribed levothyroxine, which contains a synthetic hormone to mimic the natural hormone thyroxine.
  • People with hyperthyroidism often take methimazole or propylthiouracil.

These treatments are not curative, and many people take the medication for life.

If you're prescribed one of these pills, the British Thyroid Foundation says there is good reason to be optimistic: "Fortunately, in the great majority of cases, psychological symptoms improve as the thyroid disorder is brought under control by treatment."

Other Interventions for Hyperthyroidism

Certain procedures can treat an overactive thyroid.

  • Radioiodine therapyinvolves taking radioactive iodine by mouth, either in capsule or liquid form. The treatment slowly destroys the cells of the thyroid gland that produce thyroid hormone, without affecting other body tissues.
  • Surgerycan be done to remove part or most of a thyroid gland. Thyroid surgery is a common treatment for thyroid cancer, but it can be an option for non-cancerous thyroid disease as well.

Thyroid Problems and Dementia Risk

Research has shown a complex link between thyroid disease and symptoms of dementia.

  • One study found that participants with subclinical hyperthyroidism (defined as TSH levels lower than 0.10mIU/L) demonstrated a larger cognitive decline over the course of the research and an increased risk of dementia.
  • Researchers who examined several studies concluded that subclinical hyperthyroidism could be correlated with a risk of dementia; however, they also found that mini-mental state exam (MMSE) scores did not decline any faster with the presence of hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or normal thyroid functioning.
  • A review of 13 different studies found that subclinical hypothyroidism was correlated with increased dementia risk in those who were younger than 75 and in those who had higher TSH levels (a sign of low thyroid hormone).
  • In a post-mortem study of older adults, hypothyroidism that was treated was not found to increase the risk of Alzheimer's brain pathology. This doesn't indicate the actual cognitive functioning of the person, but it does demonstrate that a correlation was not found between actual brain changes of Alzheimer's and thyroid levels.
  • One study found that adequately treated hypothyroidism was not correlated with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment.

It appears that major cognitive problems are not likely to develop with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. And minor cognitive problems associated with thyroid functioning (like forgetfulness and brain fog) are often temporary and improve with treatment.

In the end, if you're exhibiting major cognitive decline, your healthcare provider should conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine if other medical conditions, besides your thyroid disease, may be contributing to your current state.

Summary

It can be embarrassing to appear forgetful. But if you're dealing with a thyroid disorder, you should cut yourself some slack: If your thyroid gland isn’t working properly, it can cause memory issues. Symptoms of both an overactive and underactive thyroid can appear like mild dementia, with poor concentration and memory problems being red flags. The good news is that medication can get both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism under control.

A Word From Verywell

If you're experiencingforgetfulness or difficulty concentrating along with your thyroid issues, be sure to alert your healthcare provider. Thyroid problems can cause mild thinking, memory, and concentration issues, and an adjustment of your medications may help. It's also important that you have an evaluation for other potential problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are thyroid problems linked to an increased risk of dementia?

    Possibly. The research on thyroid and dementia risk is mixed.

    It appears as though both high and low TSH levels can increase the risk of dementia in people under age 75. However, taking medication to restore thyroid hormone levels to the normal range eliminates the increased risk of dementia.

    (Video) Thyroid Brain Fog and Memory Loss With Hashimoto's, Graves' and Hypothyroidism
  • Is memory loss from hypothyroidism reversible?

    For the most part, yes. Treating hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism with medications to adjust thyroid levels can help you think more clearly. People who are treated with supplemental thyroid therapy show no decline in cognitive functioning. However, it is unclear if thyroid treatment helps memory issues in adults above age 75.

11 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Cooke GE, Mullally S, Correia N, et al.Hippocampal volume Is decreased in adults with hypothyroidism. Thyroid. 2014;24(3):433-440. doi:10.1089/thy.2013.0058

    (Video) BRAIN FOG AND HOW TO TREAT IT AT HOME

  2. Alzheimer's Association. What is dementia?

  3. Piedmont Healthcare. The difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

  4. Thyroid Advisor. Hypothyroidism and memory.

  5. British Thyroid Foundation. Psychological symptoms and thyroid disorders.

  6. Medline Plus. Hyperthyroidism.

  7. Juárez-cedillo T, Basurto-acevedo L, Vega-garcía S, et al. Prevalence of thyroid dysfunction and its impact on cognition in older Mexican adults: (SADEM study). J Endocrinol Invest. 2017;40(9):945-952. doi:10.1007/s40618-017-0654-6

  8. Pasqualetti G, Pagano G, Rengo G, Ferrara N, Monzani F. Subclinical hypothyroidism and cognitive impairment: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015;100(11):4240-8. doi:10.1210/jc.2015-2046

  9. Brenowitz WD,Han F,Kukull WA,Nelson PT. Treated hypothyroidism is associated with cerebrovascular disease but not Alzheimer's disease pathology in older adults. Neurobiol Aging.2018;62:64-71. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2017.10.004

  10. Parsaik AK, Singh B, Roberts RO, et al. Hypothyroidism and risk of mild cognitive impairment in elderly persons: a population-based study. JAMA Neurol. 2014;71(2):201-7. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.5402

Additional Reading

Do Thyroid Disorders Cause Forgetfulness and Brain Fog? (2)

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.

(Video) Memory Loss & Forgetfulness: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

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FAQs

Can thyroid problems make you forgetful? ›

Hypothyroidism is common in adults and is frequently associated with cognitive issues, such as increased forgetfulness, mental slowing and “brain fog”.

How do you get rid of brain fog in thyroid? ›

Important in managing patients with brain fog includes a supportive doctor-patient relationship and willingness to consider additional treatment, including adding liothyronine to the treatment regimen. In addition, lifestyle changes like more rest and exercise can help.

What does hypothyroid brain fog feel like? ›

The top symptom reported regardless of hypothyroidism etiology was fatigue, marked by lack of energy or feeling sleepy. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism-related brain fog included forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, and mental confusion, as well as anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Can your thyroid mess with your mind? ›

Yes, thyroid disease can affect your mood — primarily causing either anxiety or depression. Generally, the more severe the thyroid disease, the more severe the mood changes. If you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), you may experience: Unusual nervousness.

Can thyroid problems cause dementia like symptoms? ›

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't make enough thyroid hormones, which can slow metabolism. Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain and sensitivity to cold. “In some cases, thyroid disorders have been associated with dementia symptoms that can be reversible with treatment,” said lead study author Dr.

Is memory loss from hypothyroidism reversible? ›

Is memory loss from hypothyroidism reversible? For the most part, yes. Treating hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism with medications to adjust thyroid levels can help you think more clearly. People who are treated with supplemental thyroid therapy show no decline in cognitive functioning.

What is a good vitamin for brain fog? ›

The top 10 vitamins for clearing brain fog
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C is well-known for its role in immune health, but it also helps with a variety of other bodily processes, including brain health. ...
  • B complex vitamins. ...
  • Magnesium. ...
  • L-theanine. ...
  • Vitamin D. ...
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. ...
  • Vitamin E. ...
  • Soy lecithin.
Apr 7, 2022

Does underactive thyroid cause brain fog? ›

Lack of energy, forgetfulness and feeling sleepy are the most common symptoms adults with hypothyroidism face with “brain fog,” a phrase patients use to describe a type of cognitive dysfunction, according to a speaker.

Is thyroid dementia reversible? ›

Hypothyroidism is one of the most important causes of potentially reversible dementia. The present case demonstrates a relatively rapid remission of cognitive and noncognitive symptoms within a period of a few months.

Can thyroid problems mimic Alzheimer's? ›

Thyroid disorder: As we age, we are more likely to develop a thyroid problem. The symptoms can closely parallel those of Alzheimer's disease: confusion, poor concentration, and agitation.

Can thyroid problems cause neurological symptoms? ›

Due to these close relations with the nervous system function, disturbances of thyrometabolic state are associated with a vast spectrum of neurological signs and symptoms including: mood and cognitive disorders, headache, ophthalmoplegia, tremor and other movement disorders, muscle weakness etc.

How does your body feel when you have thyroid problems? ›

Symptom: Changes in Energy or Mood

Thyroid disorders can have a noticeable impact on your energy level and mood. Hypothyroidism tends to make people feel tired, sluggish, and depressed. Hyperthyroidism can cause anxiety, problems sleeping, restlessness, and irritability.

How can thyroid affect your brain? ›

Thyroid hormones are crucial for brain development, and influence brain function throughout life. In adults, hypothyroidism causes lethargy, hyporeflexia, and poor motor coordination (1,2), is associated with bipolar affective disorders, depression, or loss of cognitive functions (3,4).

What is the main cause of thyroid problems? ›

Problems with the thyroid can be caused by: iodine deficiency. autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, leading either to hyperthyroidism (caused by Graves' disease) or hypothyroidism (caused by Hashimoto's disease) inflammation (which may or may not cause pain), caused by a virus or ...

What causes memory loss and forgetfulness? ›

Memory and other thinking problems have many possible causes, including depression, an infection, or medication side effects. Sometimes, the problem can be treated, and cognition improves. Other times, the problem is a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer's disease, which cannot be reversed.

Which symptom of thyroid disease is seen in older adults? ›

CLINICAL RECOGNITION

Elderly patients with severe hypothyroidism often present with variable symptoms that may be masked or potentiated by co-morbid conditions. Characteristic symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, hoarseness, constipation, and myalgias.

Does levothyroxine affect memory? ›

When assessing the effects of 3-month treatment, results revealed that the treated hypothyroid group had significant increased verbal memory retrieval. Results suggest that specific memory retrieval deficits associated with hypothyroidism can resolve after replacement therapy with levothyroxine.

Can hypothyroidism be mistaken for dementia? ›

More than 50 conditions can cause or mimic the symptoms of dementia, and a small percentage of dementias are reversible. Two common examples are dementia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency or an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).

Can dementia be caused by hypothyroidism? ›

Conclusions: Hypothyroidism is associated with increased risk of dementia. The association is influenced by comorbidity and age. Every 6 months of elevated TSH increased the risk of dementia by 12%, suggesting that also the length of hypothyroidism influences the risk of dementia.

Does levothyroxine cause brain fog? ›

Background: Some levothyroxine (LT4)-treated hypothyroid patients report a constellation of persistent and distressing cognitive symptoms that has been termed brain fog.

What are the 3 foods that fight memory loss? ›

What are the foods that fight memory loss? Berries, fish, and leafy green vegetables are 3 of the best foods that fight memory loss. There's a mountain of evidence showing they support and protect brain health.

What deficiency causes foggy brain? ›

Diet can also play a role in brain fog. Vitamin B12 supports healthy brain function, and a vitamin B12 deficiency can bring about brain fog, according to a 2021 research review .

Why do I have brain fog all the time? ›

This can be caused by overworking, lack of sleep, stress, and spending too much time on the computer. On a cellular level, brain fog is believed to be caused by high levels inflammation and changes to hormones that determine your mood, energy and focus.

What disorder is most often misdiagnosed as dementia? ›

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the most misdiagnosed form of dementia, taking on average more than 18 months and three doctors to receive a correct diagnosis.

Does B12 help with memory? ›

Vitamin B12 is sometimes taken to treat memory loss, poor concentration, and Alzheimer's disease and to boost your mood or energy levels. Deficiencies in B12 can make your body unable to produce the protective myelin and can lead to nerve damage, cognitive problems and memory loss.

Does levothyroxine cause dementia? ›

Higher total and free thyroxine levels were associated with an increased risk of dementia and AD (age and sex adjusted hazard ratio (95% confidence interval) per SD increase in free thyroxine: 1.21 (1.04; 1.40) and 1.31 (1.14; 1.51) respectively).

What else can cause memory loss besides dementia? ›

Other causes for memory problems can include aging, medical conditions, emotional problems, mild cognitive impairment, or another type of dementia.

What are two body systems affected by an underactive thyroid gland? ›

Thyroid hormones influence the force and speed of your heartbeat, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol levels. Because of this, thyroid dysfunction can cause problems that can worsen heart health. Hypothyroidism can affect the heart and circulatory system in several ways.

Can thyroid problems cause walking problems? ›

In euthyroid participants, higher thyroid function was associated with worse gait patterns. In conclusion, both low and high thyroid function are associated with alterations in Global gait, Tandem, Base of support and velocity. Gait is an important marker of general health.

Can thyroid problems affect your legs? ›

Nerve Damage

Severe, untreated hypothyroidism can cause fluid buildup that puts pressure on the nerves in your arms and legs. This can lead to tingling, pain, and numbness where the nerve is damaged.

Can low thyroid cause mental confusion? ›

Slowing of thought and speech, decreased attentiveness, and apathy often occur in overt hypothyroidism, and the diagnosis may be confused with depression. Rarely, severely hypothyroid patients present with agitation and frank psychosis (“myxedema madness”) (5).

What are early warning signs of thyroid problems? ›

7 Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Issues
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight gain.
  • Weight loss.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Sensitivity to heat.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
Jan 11, 2021

What causes memory loss and forgetfulness? ›

Memory and other thinking problems have many possible causes, including depression, an infection, or medication side effects. Sometimes, the problem can be treated, and cognition improves. Other times, the problem is a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer's disease, which cannot be reversed.

Can thyroid problems mimic Alzheimer's? ›

Thyroid disorder: As we age, we are more likely to develop a thyroid problem. The symptoms can closely parallel those of Alzheimer's disease: confusion, poor concentration, and agitation.

How does your body feel when you have thyroid problems? ›

Symptom: Changes in Energy or Mood

Thyroid disorders can have a noticeable impact on your energy level and mood. Hypothyroidism tends to make people feel tired, sluggish, and depressed. Hyperthyroidism can cause anxiety, problems sleeping, restlessness, and irritability.

Is thyroid dementia reversible? ›

Hypothyroidism is one of the most important causes of potentially reversible dementia. The present case demonstrates a relatively rapid remission of cognitive and noncognitive symptoms within a period of a few months.

What is the main cause of thyroid problems? ›

Problems with the thyroid can be caused by: iodine deficiency. autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, leading either to hyperthyroidism (caused by Graves' disease) or hypothyroidism (caused by Hashimoto's disease) inflammation (which may or may not cause pain), caused by a virus or ...

Can thyroid cause dizziness balance problems? ›

Is dizziness a symptom of a thyroid problem? Yes, dizziness is a symptom of a thyroid problem. Thyroid diseases³ or thyroid abnormalities sometimes manifest as dizziness. A high heart rate, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness are all possible symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

What does thyroid fatigue feel like? ›

You may feel nervous, moody, weak, or tired. Your hands may shake, your heart may beat fast, or you may have problems breathing. You may be sweaty or have warm, red, itchy skin. You may have more bowel movements than usual.

What happens if you don't treat hypothyroidism? ›

If left untreated, though, hypothyroidism can lead to many complications. These include heart problems, nerve injury, infertility and in severe cases, death.

Why do I forget things instantly? ›

Forgetfulness can arise from stress, depression, lack of sleep or thyroid problems. Other causes include side effects from certain medicines, an unhealthy diet or not having enough fluids in your body (dehydration). Taking care of these underlying causes may help resolve your memory problems.

How can I stop forgetfulness? ›

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What is the best medication for memory loss? ›

Cholinesterase inhibitors are the first choice of treatment for memory loss. The doctor may also prescribe the single-dose drug combination Namzeric to treat moderate to severe memory loss.

Can thyroid problems cause neurological symptoms? ›

Due to these close relations with the nervous system function, disturbances of thyrometabolic state are associated with a vast spectrum of neurological signs and symptoms including: mood and cognitive disorders, headache, ophthalmoplegia, tremor and other movement disorders, muscle weakness etc.

Does levothyroxine affect memory? ›

When assessing the effects of 3-month treatment, results revealed that the treated hypothyroid group had significant increased verbal memory retrieval. Results suggest that specific memory retrieval deficits associated with hypothyroidism can resolve after replacement therapy with levothyroxine.

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