Have you noticed that your ADHD symptoms change or worsen at certain times of the month, or that they have recently become worse? Hormones may have something to do with it. As your body changes, so do your hormones, and sometimes those hormones can affect the way your brain works.
Progesterone and worsening ADHD symptoms are linked because progesterone may affect your brain’s ability to produce neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. This disruption to neurotransmitter production in neurotransmitters may worsen ADHD symptoms or inhibit the effectiveness of ADHD medications.
This article will discuss how hormones are related to ADHD, and how you can keep your hormone levels from affecting your ADHD symptoms. I’ll tell you more about:
- How your hormones are related to your ADHD symptoms
- What progesterone does to make ADHD symptoms worse
- How your age and menstrual cycle can affect your ADHD symptoms
- Why progesterone can make some ADHD medications less effective
- What you can do to regulate your hormone levels with ADHD
Do Hormones Make ADHD Worse?
Gonadal hormones, the ones that your body produces during puberty, drastically affect your brain chemistry. Because these hormones are related to sexual development in males and females, they fluctuate as you age.
Hormones do make ADHD symptoms worse for women during puberty, periods, perimenopause, and menopause. That’s because, at these times, the female body produces more estrogen or progesterone, causing an imbalance that affects memory, concentration and overall happiness.
Let’s talk more about how ADHD works and how your hormone levels can alleviate or intensify your ADHD symptoms.
ADHD affects the brain’s ability to process and store sensory information, and most neuroscientists believe it’s caused by low levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serontonin.
These neurotransmitters are crucial to your health, affecting attention span, mood, memory, and more. They help you move information to different parts of your brain that store and process the things you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. When your neurotransmitters can’t pick up this information, it gets lost, resulting in a lack of focus, short-term memory problems and impaired judgment.
The brains of people diagnosed with ADHD usually produce too little dopamine and norepinephrine, making it difficult for them to process information quickly and efficiently.
Progesterone and ADHD
The two most prominent female sex hormones — estrogen and progesterone — help your reproductive system function properly. They work together to manage a woman’s sex organs and manage the entire menstrual cycle. However, they can also impact the way that your brain receives and stores sensory information.
High levels of progesterone and low estrogen levels can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain, potentially worsening your ADHD symptoms.
Estrogen and progesterone imbalances affect your levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are essential neurotransmitters. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine help your brain process information, and they help you feel joy, relaxation, and concentration. They also assist with memorization and learning.
How Estrogen and Progesterone Affect ADHD Symptoms
Estrogen increases your production of neurotransmitters, helping you memorize and process information. However, progesterone slows down your ability to process sensory stimuli in your brain. Ideally, your body will produce both of these hormones at similar times, keeping each other in balance.
Still, your body doesn’t always keep these hormones in balance, especially as you go through puberty, ovulate, have your period, and go through menopause.
So, when your sex hormones fluctuate during your monthly menstrual cycle or menopause, they may cause your brain to produce more or less of these essential neurotransmitters depending on your hormone levels. Thus, your body’s reproductive cycles can affect your concentration and memory– and the severity of your ADHD symptoms.
How a Woman’s Stage of Life Affects ADHD Symptoms
Hormones and ADHD are directly connected, especially when it comes to women. As estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall during a woman’s lifetime, ADHD symptoms may worsen, and high progesterone levels can negate the effects of some medications.
Below are some of the major stages where hormone fluctuation may impact a women’s ADHD. Potential solutions may involve changing or adjusting birth control meds, ADHD meds or even utilizing an antidepressant. Talk to your doctor to figure out what kind of treatment plan will work best for you.
As adolescent girls enter puberty between 9 and 12, they experience a rapid increase in estrogen and progesterone. During this time, girls with ADHD often experience a drastic change in their behavior as a result of these hormonal changes
A lot of the time, they may suddenly become unfocused, argumentative, and over-emotional. They also frequently experience drastic mood changes due to hormonal fluctuations that can affect ADHD symptoms, causing frustration and low self-esteem. Some recent research has even suggested that girls undergoing puberty and who have ADHD symptoms are more likely to develop eating disorders.
Because ADHD symptoms can change so quickly for girls going through puberty, ADHD is often misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety. However, the underlying issue may still be ADHD, and treatments only designed for mood or eating disorders won’t be effective. On the same note, girls diagnosed with ADHD who are already on medication might notice that their medicine has stopped working at the onset of puberty.
Periods and ADHD
During the female menstruation cycle, which usually lasts 28 days, women experience many different hormone changes that cause ovulation, the thickening of the uterine lining and menstruation.
During the first two weeks of a woman’s cycle, estrogen levels slowly increase. During these two weeks, most women struggle much less with ADHD symptoms, and amphetamine medications work well.
During the second two weeks of a woman’s cycle, progesterone levels rise to trigger ovulation and keep the uterine lining from thickening too much. Because progesterone decreases the production of the neurotransmitters that alleviate ADHD symptoms, most women notice a worsening in their ADHD symptoms during the second two weeks of their cycles.
During the third and fourth weeks of the menstrual cycle, progesterone levels rise far above estrogen levels. Often, this progesterone spike minimizes the effects of ADHD medications, resulting in significantly worsened symptoms. However, by the end of these two weeks, hormone levels stabilize.
Finding a reliable way to cope with these hormone changes can be difficult for women with ADHD since many medications won’t work well during the last two weeks of their menstrual cycles.
Perimenopause and Menopause
During perimenopause and menopause, your estrogen levels fall rapidly, causing many physical symptoms. However, as estrogen levels decrease, so does the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, which could cause your ADHD symptoms to worsen or change.
- Short-term memory loss
- A lack of attention
- A lack of organizational skills
Because estrogen levels are so low as menopause sets in, your medication might stop working during this time, too. You may need to talk to your doctor if you have noticed worsening or changing ADHD symptoms and believe that you’re entering perimenopause or have already started menopause.
Does Birth Control Affect Progesterone Levels?
Different types of birth control are effective in various ways to prevent pregnancy.
However, hormonal birth control will affect your hormone levels. Usually, these birth control methods contain either progestin or a combination of estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone). These birth control methods balance your progesterone and estrogen levels, preventing ovulation.
Birth control that contains progestin will affect your progesterone levels since more hormones are added to your body. Progestin has the same effect on your body as progesterone, slowing down your brain’s neurotransmitter production and potentially worsening your ADHD symptoms.
Most people who have ADHD avoid progestin-only contraceptives since the progestin can worsen ADHD symptoms. Some of the most popular progestin-only birth controls include:
- “Mini pills” such as Camila, Micronor, Heather, Errin, and Jolivette
- Injections such as Depo-Provera or Noristerat
- Mirena and Skyla IUDs
- Nexplanon implant
However, other birth control options such as combination contraceptives may work better for one’s ADHD symptoms. In some cases, these birth control methods can help you balance your hormone levels. Taking these medications, many people are successful at preventing fluctuations in their ADHD symptoms during their period, perimenopause or menopause.
Progesterone and ADHD Medication
Two of the most common types of ADHD medications are methylphenidates, such as Ritalin, and amphetamines, such as Adderall. Today, over 2.6 million American adults regularly take one of these medications to treat their symptoms. However, sometimes, your hormone levels can interfere with their effectiveness.
People who have high progesterone levels during their menstrual cycle, puberty or menopause may notice that their medication doesn’t work anymore. That’s because progesterone slows down the production of neurotransmitters, negating the effects of their medicine.
ADHD medications help your brain produce neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. These medicines also keep your brain from absorbing the neurotransmitters, allowing them to stay in the gaps between your nerves. By helping your brain keep the neurotransmitters around, these medications help your brain absorb and store information.
So essentially, ADHD medications make it easier for your brain to send information where it needs to go, increasing the effectiveness of your memory and your ability to stay focused.
Hormones affect the effectiveness of these medications. While estrogen helps your brain keep these good neurotransmitters around, progesterone does the exact opposite.
According to a study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology, amphetamines work better when progesterone levels are low. That’s because progesterone slows everything down in your brain. If you have high progesterone levels, it could even overpower your ADHD medication, making it ineffective.
Tips for Managing Your Progesterone Levels and ADHD
Even when you feel like your ADHD has taken control of your life, there are some ways to keep progesterone from worsening your symptoms.
Try some of these tips that work for many people who have the same problem as you:
- Ask your doctor about taking an oral contraceptive with low levels of progestin to balance your hormone levels.
- Consider asking your doctor about changing your ADHD medication.
- Track your progress with a journal so you can notice when your symptoms worsen.
- Ask your doctor about taking an antidepressant before your period every month to help regulate your neurotransmitter production and lessen ADHD symptoms.
- Ask your doctor about hormone replacement therapy if you’re in perimenopause or menopause.
Progesterone can make it hard for you to manage your ADHD symptoms. It can also make some ADHD medications less effective at certain times of your life, like during puberty, periods, perimenopause, and menopause.
Still, there are many ways you can prevent your hormones from worsening your ADHD symptoms. Talk to your doctor to figure out what treatment options fit your lifestyle best!
- NCBI: Potential Hormonal Mechanisms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder
- Hormone Health Network: Progesterone
- Very Well Mind: Treatment for Women with ADHD
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: ADHD & The Brain
- WebMD: Is There a Link Between Hormones and ADHD?
- The Journal of Neuroscience: How Progesterone Impairs Memory for Biologically Salient Stimuli in Healthy Young Women
- Psychiatrist.com: A Review of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Women and Girls: Uncovering This Hidden Diagnosis
- ADDitude Magazine: Puberty and ADHD Symptoms in Teens and Tweens
- Clue: The Menstrual Cycle
- CHADD: The Complete Picture: How Estrogen Affects Women with ADHD
- CHADD: Changing Estrogen Levels Affect Women’s ADHD Symptoms—Part Three
- Signature Care Emergency Center: ADHD and PMS
- ADDitude Magazine: ADHD and Hormones: ADD Symptoms in Teen Girls, Women
- Edge Foundation: ADHD and Estrogen
- WebMD: ADHD Drug Use by Young Adults Doubled in Recent Years
- National Library of Medicine: Acute effects of d-amphetamine during the follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle in women