Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is never pleasant, but when you have ADHD, it can strike louder and harder. During the first half of your cycle, you probably feel ‘normal’, clear headed and productive. Then, as your period gets closer, you begin to feel like Mr. Hyde.
Beside the regular physical symptoms of PMS such as:
Changes in sleep patterns
Your ADHD symptoms can get much worse, and you can find it difficult to:
Not act more impulsively
Also your emotions can take on a life of their own and you experience mood swings, depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, irritable, intense anger and anxiousness.
None of this is fun and can seriously affect the quality of your life, your relationships and performance at work.
The reason why PMS is so challenging when you have ADHD is related to dopamine. We know that dopamine levels are lower in the brains of ADDers compared to non-ADDers. However, something that isn’t so well known is that dopamine levels are controlled by estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen is one of the key hormones that regulate the female reproductive system. It is also involved in the regulation of neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These assist with important cognitive functions such as focus, concentration, mood and memory.
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days. During the first 14 days of the menstrual cycle, you feel great because estrogen is high and progesterone is lower. However, around the halfway point in your cycle (day 14) the estrogen levels begin to drop and progesterone levels increase and this is when you start to experience the PMS problems. Women with ADHD have been found to be more sensitive to lower estrogen levels.
Hormonal fluctuations affect you and your ADHD symptoms throughout your life too. During puberty, both estrogen and progesterone levels increase, which can result in intense emotions. In pregnancy, estrogen levels increase and remain elevated, so ADHD symptoms often (but not always) decrease.
During perimenopause, estrogen levels rise and fall making ADHD hard to manage. By menopause, women often report feeling better, this is because although estrogen levels are lower they have stabilized and so ADHD symptoms are easier to manage.
Estrogen and ADHD Meds
Stimulant medications, help ADHD symptoms by increasing the amount of neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine, in the brain. They can also slow down the reabsorption of these neurotransmitters so they stay in the neural synapse longer. This means that messages in the brain are delivered safely, and your ADHD symptoms are reduced.
Estrogen is thought to help the effectiveness of stimulant meds, while progesterone can make stimulants less effective, hich also help to explain why your ADHD symptoms seem worse towards the end of your cycle.
SAD and PMS
Research shows you are more likely to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) if you have ADHD. Moreover, people who experience SAD find it makes their PMS symptoms worse. SAD is a form of depression that is triggered by the reduction of sunlight and colder temperatures. Head here to learn more about ADHD and SAD and what you can do to help it.
The good news is, you aren’t powerless over your hormones. There are lots of things you can do to reduce your PMS, including medical and lifestyle changes.
1) Increase your dopamine in all the usual untapped brilliance ways
Clean whole foods
Omega 3 supplement
2) Cut out caffeine, alcohol, sugar, dairy and very salty foods, as they have been found to make PMS worse.
3) Take vitamin supplements, as PMS sufferers often have vitamin deficiencies.
Vitamin B6, B12, Vitamins D, C and E are all important to help PMS. Find a professional in your area to help and advise you on the right supplements for you.
4) Reduce stress, as it makes both your ADHD and PMS symptoms worse.
Remember, how you live every day affects your PMS; not just what you do during the second 2 weeks of your cycle.
5) Track your period cycles, either in your agenda or with an app such as ‘Monthly Cycles’. This will help you see patterns, which will make you feel more in control. It will also be valuable information for your doctor.
6) Get a copy of ‘Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom’, by Christine Northrup. She addressed the physical and emotional components to feeling healthy and happy.
Visit your doctor and explain what is happening. Some things that can help PMS are…
1) Going on birth control as it stabilizes hormones. Not everyone wants to do this, but it is something that your doctor might suggest.
2) Increasing the dosage of ADHD medication during the second phase of your cycle.
3) Treating depression if you are depressed
Don’t feel powerless, PMS can be managed. Empower yourself with knowledge, read up on the subject, listen to podcasts and talk to other people who also have ADHD and PMS. Be open to trying new things, and above all, talk kindly to yourself during this time.