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Can ADHD Worsen with Menopause?

Understanding the Estrogen-ADHD Connection & Coping Strategies.

Mia West
January 10, 2024
Medically-reviewed and fact checked by Ryan Lester, PA-C

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects 366 million adults globally, with 8.7 million cases reported in the U.S. Once thought to primarily affect males, there has been a notable surge in late ADHD diagnosis for women in their 30s and 40s. In fact, the CDC reported a staggering 344% increase in the prescription of medication for privately insured adult women between 2003 to 2015. Managing ADHD presents its own set of challenges, but when this condition manifests later in life, leaving little time to develop coping mechanisms, the simultaneous onset of perimenopause can heighten its impact.

ADHD Psychological & Emotional Distress

ADHD stems from disruptions in neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. The most significant impact is often on dopamine activity. As the key regulator of the brain's reward and pleasure center, imbalances in dopamine levels may contribute to behavioral and attention issues. Individuals with ADHD might gravitate towards activities that stimulate dopamine release, and this tendency is frequently associated with impulsive and hyperactive behaviors.

This can show up for women struggling with adult ADHD as disorganization, indecision, restlessness and overspending, but there are also several psychological and emotional challenges that can coexist. Research from 2014 revealed that girls with ADHD tend to have lower self-esteem than boys with ADHD, a trend that persists into adulthood. Another 2017 study involving women and girls diagnosed with ADHD indicated a heightened risk of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Estrogen’s Important Role

While estrogen is not a cause of ADHD, hormone imbalances can significantly affect dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. A drop in estrogen levels correlates with a decrease in these brain chemicals, leading to mood changes, including feelings of sadness and anxiety, and affecting cognitive functions like focus and memory. This is especially noticeable during a female's menstrual cycle, particularly in the second half, when estrogen is lowest. 

As women enter perimenopause, the stage preceding menopause marked by significant fluctuations in estrogen levels and reduced progesterone levels, they face an increased risk of exacerbated ADHD symptoms. Notably, menopause and ADHD share various symptoms including depression, concentration difficulties, and sleep disorders, creating a compounded challenge. According to a recent survey of women diagnosed with ADHD, more than half said their symptoms reached such severity in their 40s and 50s that they called menopause the period “ADHD had the greatest overall impact on their lives.” Shared symptoms of brain fog, memory issues and feeling overwhelmed also had a life-altering impact on over 70% of respondents.

Coping Strategies

If the onset of perimenopause brings unmanageable ADHD symptoms, there are strategies that can offer relief. Lifestyle adjustments like regular exercise, meditation, and mindfulness practices, have been proven to help manage the mental and emotional symptoms of ADHD. In addition to the stimulants known for their efficacy in managing ADHD symptoms, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also offer relief by balancing estrogen and progesterone levels. Regardless, collaboration with a healthcare professional becomes crucial during this phase, as they can assist with adjustments to medication, antidepressants, and the exploration of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The confluence of ADHD, hormonal changes, and life events during midlife can be a triple threat. Hormonal shifts may overwhelm individuals who previously managed mild ADHD symptoms. Meanwhile, the pressures of caring for aging parents, an "empty nest," career demands, and emotional challenges can worsen ADHD symptoms, underscoring the need for comprehensive support and tailored coping mechanisms.

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About the Author

Mia West

A former journalist, Mia brings a high energy approach to communications rooted in insights, culture and brand DNA. She is driven by helping brands crystalize their story and foster meaningful, emotional connections with audiences. Over the years she has collaborated with prominent brands such as Petco, Keurig Dr Pepper, Jaguar Land Rover, Revlon, and Procter & Gamble Beauty, as well as many others in the retail, health & wellness, beauty, lifestyle, and sustainability realms. A California native, she lives in San Diego with her family at the beach.

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