ADHD is often thought of as a children’s condition, but research indicates that around 4.4 percent of American adults have ADHD. Adults with ADHD may see their symptoms fluctuate over time. Some people find that their symptoms get worse during the menopausal transition.

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

Whether you have ADHD or not, you may be wondering what’s causing these challenging symptoms. Keep reading to learn how to tell the difference between ADHD symptoms and symptoms of menopause. Plus learn what you can do to find relief.

Perimenopause is the time period leading up to menopause, when your hormone levels are still fluctuating. Menopause doesn’t officially begin until you’ve gone 12 months without a menstrual period.

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

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

This can lead to worsening of ADHD symptoms.

A 2021 study found that decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone during perimenopause can cause ADHD symptoms to become more severe.

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

During perimenopause, people with ADHD may experience new symptoms or may have trouble managing symptoms that were previously under control.

Research has shown that hormonal changes can affect ADHD symptoms at several transitionary 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 have even explored adjusting treatments throughout the menstrual cycle to compensate for the effects of changing hormone levels.

When your body experiences dramatic fluctuations in hormone levels, such as during perimenopause and menopause, it can significantly impact your brain chemicals. These changes can worsen mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

These disorders often co-occur along with ADHD and the conditions can impact one another. 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 instance, during menopause, you might experience:

  • a lack of focus
  • depression
  • a lack of motivation
  • aggressiveness
  • irritability
  • stress

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

  • being easily distracted
  • frequently failing to complete tasks, work, or chores
  • making careless mistakes
  • having difficulty with organization
  • easily losing items
  • avoiding tasks that require sustained attention
  • forgetting to do necessary tasks
  • appearing to “zone out” during conversations
  • having difficulty making plans
  • feeling easily overwhelmed by tasks or projects
  • inability to commit to a decision
  • emotional instability
  • difficulty with time management

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

The worsening of symptoms during perimenopause and menopause can sometimes prompt diagnosis. Symptoms in this stage can interfere with work or daily life and can cause people to talk to a medical professional.

If you’re not sure if your symptoms are being caused by menopause, ADHD, or menopause making ADHD more severe, it’s a good idea to talk to a medical professional. They can help you figure out what’s causing your symptoms, and can 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’ve responded to any previous ADHD treatments. Options include:

  • Stimulant medications: 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 can have harmful interactions with other prescription medications.
  • Non-stimulant medications: Non-stimulant medications are also an option for treating ADHD. This includes some antidepressants as well as non-stimulants specifically made for ADHD. Like stimulants, these medications aren’t the right choice for everyone with ADHD.
  • Hormone therapy: Estrogen therapy is sometimes prescribed to treat the symptoms of menopause. In some cases, it can also help manage some newly worsened 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 any alternative treatments.

Changing hormones can take a toll and can 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 make time for self-care and new habits.

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

  • Getting enough sleep: Your brain needs sleep for you to recharge and function at your best.
  • Staying active: Exercise can reduce stress and boost your mood.
  • Managing your mental health: It’s common for people with ADHD to also have depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. Managing those conditions can help you manage your ADHD symptoms, too.
  • Trying a relaxation-based exercise: Developing a yoga or meditation habit can be rewarding for people with ADHD.
  • Eating healthy: People with ADHD don’t always stick to meal schedules, 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.
  • Staying social: Keeping in touch with friends and family keeps you connected and has a positive impact on brain function.
  • Using apps and tools: There are a variety of apps, calendars, alarms, planners, and other tools that can help you stay on track. There’s no perfect solution for everyone with ADHD, so don’t be afraid to experiment with available options until you find something that’s useful for you.

Hormone levels are known to have an effect on ADHD symptoms. During perimenopause and menopause, the body makes less estrogen than it used to. As the levels of these hormone levels drop, it can lead to worsening ADHD symptoms.

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