Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on
September 30, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on:

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Brain fog is a common symptom associated with thyroid disorders. It can be frustrating and debilitating, making it difficult to think clearly or focus on anything.

If you’re having thyroid problems and struggling with brain fog, this guide is for you. In this article, we’ll discuss what thyroid diseases are, the symptoms of brain fog, and how to cope effectively.

We’ll also provide resources so that you can learn more about thyroid health and brain fog.

Let’s get into it.

What does the thyroid do, and how does it affect the body?

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. It produces thyroid hormones, which are essential for regulating metabolism.

The metabolism is the mechanism by which your body turns food into energy that your body uses to function.

The thyroid gland makes the hormones T4 and T3 to regulate your metabolism. The cells of the body receive instructions from these thyroid hormones regarding how much energy to utilize.

Thyroid problems occur when the gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) or produces too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism).

Both of these can cause problems with brain function.

Two Main Types of Thyroid Disorders

There are two main types of thyroid diseases:

Hypothyroidism

Thyroid damage due to hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid does not produce sufficient quantities of critical hormones, such as thyroxine (T-four) and triiodothyronine (T-three)—these hormones work together to regulate how your body uses energy.

An underactive thyroid can happen due to:

  • Autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease
  • Surgery to remove the thyroid
  • Congenital hypothyroidism, which is present at birth
  • Radiation therapy
  • Medications, especially those that contain lithium

Hypothyroidism can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Memory problems or brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Muscle weakness and joint pain

Hypothyroidism may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, you may experience more severe symptoms.

Hyperthyroidism

If your thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormone known as thyroxine, you may have hyperthyroidism.

An overactive thyroid causes your body to have an increased metabolism, which can lead to irregular heartbeat and unintentional weight loss.

Although there are many ways to treat hyperthyroidism, the thyroid typically heals on its own once whatever is causing the issue has been remedied.

The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease. This condition is an autoimmune disorder that causes your body’s immune system to attack your gland.

Other less common causes of an overactive thyroid include:

  • Toxic thyroid adenoma
  • Multinodular goiter
  • Subacute thyroiditis
  • Excessive iodine intake
  • Pituitary gland tumors
  • Certain medications, such as amiodarone and interferon-alpha

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness

As with hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism tend to develop over time.

Subtypes of Thyroid Diseases

There are several subtypes of thyroid issues. These include:

Thyroiditis

Thyroiditis is a general term that refers to any disorder that causes inflammation of your thyroid gland, which can lead to overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormones.

Hashimoto’s disease is the most common type of thyroiditis.

Thyroiditis can be temporary or persistent, and it might result in permanent hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid.

Common Causes

There are several different causes of thyroiditis, including:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection
  • Parasitic infection
  • Certain medications, such as interferon-alpha and lithium
  • Pregnancy

Common Symptoms

Thyroiditis can also cause symptoms of either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, depending on whether your thyroid is underactive or overactive.

Thyroiditis can be divided into three phases, each with its own set of symptoms. The following are the three stages of most thyroiditis illnesses:

  • Thyrotoxic phase: This is the initial phase of thyroiditis, during which your thyroid gland releases too many hormones. You may experience symptoms such as anxiety, weight loss, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and muscle weakness. The thyroid gland may also be enlarged during this phase.
  • Hypothyroid phase: This is the second phase of thyroiditis, during which your thyroid gland becomes underactive and does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Symptoms during this phase may include fatigue, weight gain, depression, memory problems, and constipation.
  • Euthyroid phase: The euthyroid stage is when your thyroid hormone levels are normal. Sometimes this happens after the thyrotoxic phase, before going into hypothyroidism. Other times, it occurs at the end, once your thyroid has healed from the inflammation and can produce a regular level of hormones again.

Hashimoto’s Disease

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that results in damage and eventual destruction of the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is unable to produce sufficient quantities of thyroid hormone, leading to hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto’s Disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States.

Common Causes

There are several possible causes of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, including:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Heredity
  • Infections
  • Certain medications
  • Pregnancy
  • Stressful life events

Hashimoto’s disease often occurs in people who have other autoimmune disorders, such as type I diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis may include:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Memory problems or brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Muscle weakness and joint pain
  • Puffy face
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Cold intolerance

Management & Treatment

There is no cure for Hashimoto’s disease. However, the condition can be managed with thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

The goal of treatment is to restore thyroid hormone levels to normal and relieve symptoms.

Thyroid hormone replacement therapy is typically taken as a daily pill. The dose of thyroid hormone may need to be adjusted periodically to ensure that thyroid hormone levels remain normal.

In some cases, thyroid surgery may be necessary to remove the thyroid gland. This is typically only done if thyroid hormone replacement therapy is not effective in managing the condition.

Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that results in too much thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland.

This can lead to hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States.

Common Causes

The exact cause of Graves’ disease is unknown. However, there are several possible risk factors, including:

  • Heredity
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Stressful life events
  • Certain medications
  • Pregnancy

Graves’ disease often occurs in people who have other autoimmune disorders, such as type I diabetes or Hashimoto’s disease.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of Graves’ disease may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Cognitive issues
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Eye problems, such as bulging eyes or double vision
  • Thin, brittle nails
  • Red, itchy skin on the shins or ankles (called Graves’ dermopathy)

Management & Treatment

Graves’ disease is a long-term illness that usually has no cure. However, drugs may be used to keep your thyroid hormone levels in check.

With the right medical care, the disease may go away for a short time, which is also called remission.

Treatments and management options for Graves’ disease include:

  • Antithyroid drugs: These drugs help to slow down the thyroid gland and reduce the production of thyroid hormones.
  • Beta-blockers: These drugs can help control some of the symptoms of Graves’ disease, such as rapid heartbeat and anxiety.
  • Radioactive iodine: This treatment helps shrink the thyroid gland and reduce the production of thyroid hormones.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the thyroid gland. This is typically only done if thyroid hormone replacement therapy is not effective in managing the condition.

If you have Graves’ disease, it’s important to see your doctor regularly and to take all of your medications as prescribed. With proper treatment, most people with Graves’ disease are able to live normal, healthy lives.

Goiter

Goiter is an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland and can develop one or more small lumps, also known as thyroid nodules.

Common Causes

A goiter is a growth on the thyroid that can occur when the gland is not able to produce enough hormones. Many conditions can lead to goiter, but the most frequent cause globally is iodine deficiency.

Other causes of goiter include:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Graves’ disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medications
  • Heredity
  • Tumors of the thyroid or other endocrine glands

Common Symptoms & Signs

The most common symptom of goiter is a painless lump in the front of your neck. However, some people with goiter may also experience:

  • Swelling in the front of your neck
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Tightness in the throat

Management & Treatment

Goiters are usually benign, which means they’re not cancerous. However, in some cases, goiters can become cancerous.

If a goiter is small and not causing any symptoms, you may not need treatment. In some cases, thyroid hormone replacement therapy may be necessary.

Surgery to remove the thyroid gland is sometimes necessary if thyroid hormone replacement therapy is not effective in managing the condition or if the goiter is large and causing difficulty swallowing or breathing.

If you have a goiter, it’s important to see your doctor regularly and to take all of your medications as prescribed. With proper treatment, most people with goiters are able to live normal, healthy lives.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the thyroid.

Most thyroid cancers are slow-growing and have a good prognosis. However, some types of cancer in the thyroid can be aggressive and can spread to other parts of the body.

Thyroid cancer is more common in women than in men, and the risk increases with age.

Common Causes

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown. However, certain risk factors have been associated with the development of thyroid cancer, including:

  • Heredity
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Certain genetic conditions

Common Symptoms & Signs

The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a painless lump in the front of your neck.

However, some people with thyroid cancer may also experience:

  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Tightness in the throat

Management & Treatment

Thyroid cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove the thyroid gland. In some cases, thyroid hormone pills, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy may be necessary.

What is brain fog, exactly?

Brain fog is a term used to describe a feeling of mental confusion or disconnection. It can make it difficult to focus, pay attention, and think clearly.

Brain fog can also cause forgetfulness and difficulty completing tasks.

While brain fog is not a medical condition, it may be a symptom of an underlying health problem.

Common causes of brain fog include:

How to Cope with Thyroid Brain Fog (a.k.a Thyroid Fog)

If you have thyroid brain fog, there are a few things you can do to help cope with the condition.

First, it’s important to see your doctor and get the proper diagnosis and treatment for your thyroid disorder.

Second, you can try some lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep, reducing stress, getting regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet.

Third, there are some supplements that may help reduce brain fog and improve your overall brain health, such as omega-three fatty acids, B-complex vitamins, and magnesium.

Fourth, you can try some cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help you manage the condition.

Fifth, you can join an online community or support group for people with thyroid disorders.

By taking these steps, you can help reduce thyroid brain fog and improve your quality of life.

Tips for a Healthy Thyroid

Besides making healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating balanced meals, staying active, and getting enough sleep, there are a few more things you can do to help keep your thyroid healthy:

Limit “ultra-processed” foods

These are foods that have been processed and had many of their natural nutrients removed. They often contain high amounts of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

Some examples of ultra-processed foods include:

  • packaged snacks
  • cereal bars
  • instant noodles
  • fast food
  • soda
  • cookies
  • cake

Avoid eating too many goitrogens.

Goitrogens are substances that can interfere with thyroid hormone production when consumed excessively. They’re found in certain foods, such as soy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli.

If you have a thyroid condition, you should talk to your doctor about whether you need to limit your intake of goitrogens.

Get enough iodine

Iodine is a mineral that’s necessary for thyroid hormone production. The best way to get iodine is through your diet.

Some iodine-rich foods include:

  • seafood
  • eggs
  • dairy products
  • lima beans
  • prunes
  • strawberries

Make sure you’re getting enough selenium.

Selenium is a mineral that’s necessary for thyroid hormone metabolism. It can be found in certain foods, such as Brazil nuts, tuna, eggs, and chicken.

You should talk to your doctor about whether you need to take a selenium supplement.

Get enough iron in your diet.

Iron is necessary for thyroid hormone production. It can be found in food, such as red meat, poultry, beans, and dark leafy greens.

If you’re not getting enough iron in your diet, you may need to take an iron supplement.

Concluding Thoughts

If you’re experiencing thyroid brain fog, it’s important to see your doctor that can diagnose thyroid disorders with appropriate thyroid function tests.

There are also a few things you can do at home to help cope with the condition, such as getting enough sleep, reducing stress, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.

In addition, there are some supplements that may help improve thyroid brain fog, such as omega-three fatty acids, B-complex vitamins, and magnesium.

Following these steps can help improve your quality of life by reducing thyroid-related brain fog.

If you want to learn more about brain fog, its varied causes, symptoms, and natural remedies, head on to our blog for more helpful resources.

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