ADHD and Menopause: What You Need to Know and What You Can Do
It’s hard enough having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But if you’re a woman going through perimenopause or menopause, you might find it getting even harder.
Diminishing estrogen levels can actually exacerbate symptoms, and for some women, the decline is sudden and dramatic. Hormonal fluctuations affect our brain’s biochemistry and thereby ADHD symptoms, according to Dr. Patricia Quinn, M.D., a developmental pediatrician and director of the National Center for Girls and Women with ADHD.
Specifically, estrogen affects the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. “[A deficiency in] dopamine is responsible for increasing ADHD symptoms,” she said, while less serotonin leads to depressed mood. (That’s why women feel so miserable during their menstrual cycles when estrogen levels dip.)
“Because a lack of dopamine is a hallmark sign of ADHD, this additional change in dopamine can lead to even greater difficulties with concentration and focus,” said Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a national certified counselor and licensed mental health counselor and author of 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD and Adult ADD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.
Some women also find that their ADHD medications are less effective during perimenopause and menopause. As a result, doctors often increase the dose. But this may be ineffective, Dr. Quinn said, because there’s nothing being done about the low estrogen levels.
What You Can Do About ADHD and Menopause
“A lot of women are blindsided by [worsening ADHD symptoms],” Dr. Quinn said. But she and Sarkis emphasized that women with ADHD do have effective options, and by addressing their symptoms can successfully minimize them and function and feel better. Here are several of their suggestions.
1. Consult your psychiatrist.
If your symptoms are getting worse or your medication isn’t working as effectively, share this information with your psychiatrist. If you aren’t working with a psychiatrist now, find one that specializes in ADHD, Sarkis said.