Personal care treatments

ADHD and menopause: changing symptoms and treatments

ADHD is often thought of as a childhood disease, but research indicates that approximately 4.4% of American adults have ADHD. Adults with ADHD may see their symptoms fluctuate over time. Some people find that their symptoms worsen during the menopausal transition.

Changing hormone levels have a number of effects on the brain. In fact, these hormonal changes often cause ADHD-like symptoms in postmenopausal people without ADHD. It’s not uncommon for people to experience difficulty concentrating, irritability, and low moods during menopause.

Whether you have ADHD or not, you might be wondering what causes these difficult symptoms. Keep reading to learn how to tell the difference between ADHD symptoms and menopausal symptoms. Plus, learn what you can do to find relief.

Perimenopause is the time before menopause, when your hormone levels are still fluctuating. Menopause doesn’t officially begin until after 12 months without a period.

On average, perimenopause lasts about 4 years, but it can be as short as a few months or as long as a decade. During perimenopause, estrogen levels drop and the body stops releasing eggs.

When estrogen levels drop, it also affects the levels of other chemicals in your body. Dopamine and serotonin, two brain chemicals known to play a role in ADHD, are often affected.

This can lead to worsening of ADHD symptoms.

A study 2021 found that declining estrogen and progesterone levels during perimenopause can worsen ADHD symptoms.

This study reflects the anecdotal experiences of many people with ADHD. It’s not uncommon for people who had mild symptoms of ADHD throughout their 20s and 30s to report worsening symptoms starting around age 45.

During perimenopause, people with ADHD may experience new symptoms or find it difficult to manage symptoms that were previously under control.

To research showed that hormonal changes can affect ADHD symptoms at several life stages, including puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle have also been shown to affect both ADHD symptoms and the effectiveness of stimulants.

Some doctors even explored adjusting treatments throughout the menstrual cycle to offset the effects of changing hormone levels.

When your body experiences dramatic fluctuations in hormone levels, such as during perimenopause and menopause, it can have a significant impact on your brain chemicals. These changes can make mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, worse.

These disorders often coexist with ADHD, and the conditions can impact each other. When you become depressed and anxious, your other ADHD symptoms may increase. And the overall effect on your life can be severe.

There is some crossover between the mental health and cognitive symptoms of ADHD and menopause. For example, during menopause you might experience:

  • a lack of focus
  • the Depression
  • a lack of motivation
  • aggressiveness
  • irritability
  • stress

Symptoms such as lack of concentration can look like ADHD on the surface. However, ADHD also includes symptoms such as:

  • be easily distracted
  • often fails to complete tasks, work, or chores
  • make careless mistakes
  • have difficulty with the organization
  • easily lose items
  • avoid tasks that require sustained attention
  • forgetting to do necessary tasks
  • seeming to “zone out” during conversations
  • have difficulty making plans
  • easily feeling overwhelmed with tasks or projects
  • inability to commit to a decision
  • emotional instability
  • difficulty with time management

Many people with ADHD do not know they have the disease. It’s common for adults with ADHD to never receive treatment because they don’t know their symptoms are ADHD. Although some people are diagnosed in adulthood, many people who were not diagnosed in childhood are never diagnosed at all.

Worsening of symptoms during perimenopause and menopause can sometimes prompt the diagnosis. Symptoms at this stage can interfere with work or daily life and may cause people to speak to a healthcare professional.

If you’re unsure whether your symptoms are caused by menopause, ADHD, or menopause making ADHD worse, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional. They can help you determine the cause of your symptoms and help you find the most appropriate treatment.

There is no cure for ADHD. However, there are many treatment approaches that can help manage symptoms. The right treatment for you depends on your symptoms, preferences, other medical treatments you receive, and how you have responded to previous ADHD treatments. Options include:

  • Stimulant drugs: Stimulant medications are the traditional treatment for ADHD. For some people, these medications are the best option, but not everyone with ADHD tolerates stimulant medications well. Additionally, they may have harmful interactions with other prescription medications.
  • Not stimulating medications : Non-stimulant medications are also an option for treating ADHD. This includes certain antidepressants as well as non-stimulants specifically designed for ADHD. Like stimulants, these medications are not the right choice for everyone with ADHD.
  • Hormone therapy: Estrogen therapy is sometimes prescribed to treat symptoms of menopause. In some cases, it may also help manage some newly aggravated ADHD symptoms.
  • Therapy: Therapy can help people with ADHD learn new ways to control and manage their symptoms. It can also address the low self-esteem and shame that many people with ADHD struggle with.
  • Alternative treatments: Some people with ADHD choose treatments such as supplements, chiropractic care, vision therapy, or sensory therapy. There is not enough research to support these treatments as effective or safe ways to manage ADHD. Talk to your doctor before trying alternative treatments.

Changing hormones can have adverse consequences and make ADHD symptoms worse. It’s a good idea to talk to a medical professional if your symptoms become overwhelming. It’s also a great idea to take the time to take care of yourself and develop new habits.

You can take some of the stress out of managing your ADHD by:

  • get enough sleep: Your brain needs sleep to recharge and function at its best.
  • stay active: Exercise can reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Manage your mental health: It is common for people with ADHD to also suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health issues. Managing these conditions can also help you manage your ADHD symptoms.
  • Try a relaxation-based exercise: Developing a habit of yoga or meditation can be rewarding for people with ADHD.
  • Eat healthy: People with ADHD don’t always stick to meal times, and many ADHD medications can affect appetite. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of healthy eating. Try eating small healthy snacks throughout the day or incorporating healthy smoothies and protein shakes into your diet.
  • Stay social: Staying in touch with friends and family keeps you connected and has a positive impact on brain function.
  • Use of applications and tools: There are a variety of apps, calendars, alarms, planners, and other tools that can help you stay on track. There is no perfect solution for everyone with ADHD, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the available options until you find something that works for you.

Hormone levels are known to have an effect on ADHD symptoms. During perimenopause and menopause, the body produces less estrogen than before. When levels of these hormones drop, it can lead to worsening of ADHD symptoms.

In some cases, this may mean that a new treatment plan is needed. It may even lead to someone with ADHD being diagnosed and treated for the first time. Treatment options for ADHD include stimulant medications, non-stimulant medications, and therapy. During menopause, hormone therapy can also help manage symptoms.