8 Health Conditions That Mimic ADHD Symptoms

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By Stephanie Allen-Gobert

The name Attention Deficit Disorder was first introduced in 1980 in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ( The cause remains unknown. ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can be very difficult to diagnose for doctors and other clinicians. Certain medical conditions, psychological disorders, and stressful life events can cause symptoms that look like ADD/ADHD. Unlike a broken bone or cancer, ADHD, does not show physical signs that can be detected by a blood test or other lab test. The typical ADHD symptoms often overlap with those of other physical and psychological disorders. Here are some examples of health conditions that share many of the symptoms associated with ADHD:

1)      Autism. People with autism can seem to lack the ability to create emotional bonds and can struggle with interactions with others. They are often overly excited when in high stimulus environments, which can seem like hyperactivity, a classic ADHD symptom.

2)      A Hearing Problem. People that suffer from hearing impairments can experience problems in social situations and may have underdeveloped communication. They may have a hard time paying attention because of their inability to hear properly. Undiagnosed hearing loss can appear as missing details of conversations, not listening or not paying attention.

3)      Hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid can create feelings of sadness or depression. People with ADHD can also have these feelings, especially if the diagnosis of depression co-exists in the condition. Hypothyroidism also includes symptoms of the inability to concentrate and memory problems; which is also common in ADHD.

4)      Anemia. Iron deficiency in adults causes lethargy, feeling exhausted and irritability. In infants and children, however, the symptoms include irritability, inability to concentrate, impaired cognitive skills and a short attention span. Children with ADHD also exhibit symptoms of inability to concentrate and are distracted easily, mimicking a short attention span.

5)      Lead poisoning. Even at low levels, lead poison can create a number of problems. Some complications of lead toxicity include mental retardation, decreased school performance, short term memory problems, inability to concentrate and decreased cognitive function. Text book symptoms are sometimes seen in children with ADHD.

6)      Food Allergies or Vitamin Deficiencies. Individuals with hypoglycemia, also called low blood sugar have symptoms to include: aggression, hyperactivity, inability to sit still or low concentration levels.

7)      A Seizure Disorder. Some children with mild seizures can experience “absence seizures” lasting only a few seconds. After a seizure episode of several hours someone can feel disoriented and confused, causing difficulty following directions or being attentive.

8)      A Sleep Disorder. The inability to get a good night’s sleep interferes with many daytime activities; having a hard time concentrating, communicating, following directions and many may suffer decreased short term memory; mimicking ADHD symptoms.

Before an accurate diagnosis of ADD/ADHD can be made, it is important that you see a mental health professional to explore and rule out the following possibilities of the conditions stated above.