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ADHD Weekly Newsletter
Hormones and Women’s ADHD Symptoms—Part Two
Join the discussion.
, we learned that girls and women affected by ADHD have a disadvantage. The guidelines used to assess ADHD and treatment options were created based on research on young white males with hyperactivity. But girls are different from boys in many ways!
teen brain changes rapidly
as it evolves from the brain of a child.
In teens, there are higher levels of two important chemicals used in brain communications—
dopamine and norepinephrine.
But the levels of those chemicals are
typically low in brains
affected by ADHD.
Estrogen, the key female hormone, affects the brain and the l
evels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain
Hormones and ADHD in teen girls
While boys typically have a decrease in ADHD symptoms when they reach puberty, the opposite is true for girls as estrogen increases during puberty.
Estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate during monthly menstrual cycles. ADHD symptoms change along with rising and falling hormone levels. As girls approach and go through puberty, they experience significant physical changes and changes in their brains. These changes directly affect their ADHD symptoms. Because ADHD is a brain-based disorder, it is strongly impacted by hormonal fluctuations.
Estrogen levels begin to increase on the first day menstruation starts. This is the beginning of the menstrual cycle, and sometimes results in an increased sense of wellbeing.
When ovulation occurs (10-17 days after the first day of menstruation), estrogen levels take a dive and progesterone levels increase. Moods can take a turn, with increased irritability and lower energy levels.
In the last days of the monthly cycle, both estrogen and progesterone drop, causing a significant shift in mood and energy for most women.
When estrogen drops, so do dopamine levels, which are already low in the brain affected by ADHD. Symptoms of ADHD are magnified at this time; and she may experience:
Sadness and mood swings
ADHD: What Happens When PMS Strikes
usually worsen a few days before the start of the menstrual cycle, according to Patricia Quinn, MD, a developmental pediatrician.
Tools and strategies
“The majority of clinicians don’t understand the impact of hormones on ADHD symptoms,” says Terry Matlan, MSW, ACSW, a psychotherapist and ADHD coach who specializes in ADHD in adults, with a special focus on women. “If a girl or woman is undiagnosed, she sees herself as lacking or less-than, rather than understanding it is part of a disorder. That leads to shame, which impacts all aspects of her life.”
Matlan urges women and girls to learn to embrace the difficulties of ADHD. “If you pretend it doesn’t exist, you won’t be a whole person,” she says.
How can you use information about hormones’ affect on your daughter’s ADHD as she approaches and goes through puberty?
Educate yourself and your daughter.
It is important for you, and your daughter, to learn as much as you can about ADHD and how hormonal fluctuations affect ADHD symptoms. Here are two books recommended for young girls:
Get Ready for Jetty! My Journal About ADHD and Me
, Jeanne Kraus. A simple book written in diary form, this tells the story of a young girl who faces challenges after entering fourth grade. The book can help young girls recognize they are not alone when facing ADHD, and provides ideas and strategies to help them become more organized and aware of their strengths and challenges.
Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All About Your AD/HD
, by Patricia Quinn, MD, is a good book for young girls to learn more about ADHD and its presentations. While it includes different characters and illustrations to make it more understandable for young girls, it is helpful to read the book with your daughter and use it as a discussion tool.
Have your daughter track her cycle.
It is helpful to understand how fluctuations in ADHD symptoms align with the normal hormonal fluctuations that occur during her monthly cycle. She will learn what is “normal” for her in terms of symptoms, what happens most often when she’s stressed or her routine changes. By mapping her symptoms to the timeline of her cycle, she can work with her healthcare provider to better manage her treatment.
says she increases stimulant medication levels
on certain days for her female patients based on their cycle and symptoms. “Some women may need an increase in dosage a few days prior to getting their period, while others may only need it while menstruating. What I do with these women is very individualized based on their symptoms.”
Here are a few suggestions for tracking the menstrual cycle:
Paper journal or day planner.
Keep a hand-written journal or your day planner near your bed to keep notes. Choose the same time each day to jot down what you notice about your menstrual cycle and ADHD symptoms. Note the start and end dates of your cycle, and symptoms you experience each day. Physical symptoms include things like bloating, cramps, headaches, and amount of flow (light, medium, heavy). Emotional symptoms include calm, happy, depressed, anxious, and more. Note how physical and emotional symptoms affect your ADHD symptoms, and the level of intensity of your symptoms.
For some, electronic apps are easier because you can carry it with you on your smart phone and set reminders to help you enter notes. Most apps create reports or graphs to help you understand your patterns and some include online communities. Free, highly rated apps to tracking your monthly cycle that are simple and colorful include:
Clue Period Tracker, rated number one by the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It is available for
Period Tracker for Android
Period Tracker Lite for iPhone
My Calendar – Period Tracker, for
When you know that certain days during your menstrual cycle are going to make your ADHD symptoms worse, you can take steps to support yourself.
One or two days before you expect a shift in symptoms, focus on self care: eat well, get enough sleep, exercise and reduce stress.
Mindfulness training can help improve awareness of the present moment, and allow you to shift from the multiple thoughts that typically bombard someone affected by ADHD. It can help you
let go of self-judgement
—that inner voice that pops in with criticism.
Behavior therapy for ADHD
is focused on changing behavior to overcome impairments due to the underlying neurodevelopmental disorder. Positive outcomes include greater self-control and higher self-esteem, both negatively impacted during hormonal fluctuations.
Ask for help.
Girls are taught from an early age to be self-reliant and not ask for help. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to
prevent the self-esteem issues and self-harm
that is much higher with girls affected by ADHD. Instead, teach your daughter to ask for help when she is frustration, sad, or feeling overwhelmed.
Resources for Parents:
100 Questions & Answers About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) In Women And Girls
, Patricia Quinn, MD
Understanding Girls with ADHD, Updated and Revised: How They Feel and Why They Do What They Do,
Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, Ellen Littman, PhD, and Patricia Quinn, MD
Raising Girls with ADHD: Secrets for Parenting Healthy, Happy Daughters
, James W. Forgan, PhD, Mary Anne Richey, MSEd
Do you have a question for our health information specialists? Call us at (800) 233-4050, Monday through Friday, 1-5 p.m. or post your question to one of our new Online Communities for
Parents of Children with ADHD
Adults with ADHD
We explored the role hormones play for women and girls with ADHD In Part One of this three-part series, and why they may experience challenges with managing their ADHD symptoms. In Part Two, we focus on how these challenges are more complicated for girls with ADHD during puberty.
This article appeared in
August 10, 2017.
The information provided on this website was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number NU38DD005376 funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.