Navigating ADHD and PMDD: Understanding the Complex Interplay

Navigating ADHD and PMDD: Understanding the Complex Interplay

The co-occurrence of ADHD and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) in women presents unique challenges. PMDD, characterized by severe emotional and physical symptoms before menstruation, can exacerbate ADHD symptoms like mood swings and inattention. This overlap can lead to increased difficulties in managing daily tasks and emotional regulation. Understanding the interplay between ADHD and PMDD is essential for effective management, often involving a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Tailoring treatment to address both conditions can significantly improve quality of life for women experiencing this dual diagnosis.

Published on
2/6/2023
Updated on
17/11/2023
estimated reading time
minutes

Written by

Alice

The mini Adhd coach

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In this Article

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A word form our expert

The Impact of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder on People with ADHD

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) significantly exacerbates the symptoms of ADHD in women and people who menstruate. This complex interaction often leads to heightened emotional responses, increased impulsivity, and greater difficulty in managing typical ADHD symptoms. Understanding and addressing the unique challenges posed by ADHD and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is crucial for effective treatment and improved quality of life. It's important for people with ADHD to be aware of these potential changes and to seek tailored management strategies during their menstrual cycle.

The Link Between Your Monthly Cycle & ADHD Symptoms

Ever feel like the days leading up to your period go beyond the typical PMS symptoms? Then, once your period starts, things suddenly feel normal, leaving you wondering if you were overreacting. Rest assured, you're not overthinking it.

• The hormonal shifts impacting ADHD mean that both ADHD and PMS symptoms can exacerbate each other, creating a cyclical challenge.

• If PMS symptoms escalate to a point where they significantly affect mental health, it may indicate something more serious at play - such as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a much more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

• Up to 46% of women and people who menstruate* that also have ADHD are affected by PMDD, indicating a higher prevalence of this condition among those with ADHD.

• Coping tips for managing PMS and ADHD include cycle tracking, education, and lifestyle changes.

• Managing PMDD involves a more holistic approach, including exploring an official diagnosis and possibly trying medication and therapy to regulate mood.

Are you interested in exploring how your menstrual cycle intersects with symptoms of ADHD and learning how to manage both effectively? If so, this article is for you.

*Note: We acknowledge that not all individuals who menstruate identify as women. Menstruation is a biological function primarily linked with women, but it's important to recognize that not all women experience menstruation. This topic can be particularly complex for transgender and nonbinary individuals. We aim to use inclusive language throughout this article to ensure all readers feel represented and respected. We know that people with ADHD already encounter stigmatization in many aspects of life, and we don't want to add to this further. 💕

ADHD Symptoms Throughout the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle's phases significantly impact the symptoms of ADHD  due to hormonal changes affecting dopamine levels.

• Follicular Phase (Day 1-14): As soon as we start bleeding (menstruation), estrogen levels rise steadily. 📈This increase in estrogen boosts dopamine production, potentially improving focus and reducing your usual ADHD symptoms. People might experience temporary relief from the usual ADHD challenges during this phase.

• Ovulation (Mid-Cycle): Around ovulation, estrogen peaks, potentially enhancing mood and cognitive function. Some people may notice their symptoms of ADHD are more manageable during this time.

• Luteal Phase (Post-Ovulation to Menstruation): Estrogen levels decline, and progesterone rises after ovulation. 📉This decrease in estrogen can lead to a drop in dopamine levels, worsening ADHD symptoms. Increased difficulty with concentration, heightened impulsivity, and more pronounced mood swings are common, as is feeling that ADHD medication is less effective.

• Pre-Menstrual Period: In the days leading up to menstruation, the decline in estrogen and dopamine may intensify ADHD symptoms further. This period can be particularly challenging, marked by increased emotional reactivity, food cravings, anxiety, and brain fog. 🤯Sleep is more likely to be disrupted, leading to more fatigue and irritability.

Given the natural fluctuations in hormonal levels throughout the month, it becomes clear how an ADHD diagnosis can amplify nearly all PMS symptoms and vice versa.

Understanding PMDD

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a more intense and less common condition compared to Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). While PMS affects a broader range of people who menstruate - up to 48%- PMDD's prevalence is relatively low, ranging from 3 to 9%.

Despite sharing symptoms with PMS, PMDD's impact is much more severe, deeply affecting daily life and requiring specialist medical treatment. The disorder carries an increased risk of suicidal thoughts/completing suicide, highlighting the importance of timely and effective diagnosis and treatment.

In the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, PMDD symptoms intensify, including severe mood swings, depression, anxiety, and physical discomfort similar to severe PMS. These symptoms, significantly influenced by hormonal fluctuations, particularly estrogen levels, can profoundly impact mental health and daily functioning 1-2 weeks before menstruation. Behavioral symptoms such as apathy and depression are common, alongside physical symptoms that surpass the typical PMS experience.

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The Intersection of PMDD and ADHD

There is a significant link between ADHD and PMDD, particularly concerning how hormonal changes affect the brain and, consequently, ADHD symptoms. ⬇️

The contributing factors towards this include:

Estrogen's Influence on Neurotransmitters

Estrogen affects the same brain receptors that release key neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This relationship is crucial for understanding why ADHD symptoms may be more severe in individuals with PMDD. 

Lower estrogen levels, particularly during parts of the menstrual cycle, lead to a decrease in these neurotransmitters. Since people with ADHD already have deficiencies in these brain chemicals, the drop in estrogen can exacerbate ADHD symptoms​​​​.

Increased Severity of Symptoms

Research indicates that hormone related mood disorders and mood disorder symptoms, including sexual dysfunction, anxiety, and depression, are more prevalent and often more severe in adult ADHD. This link is especially evident in those with PMDD, as their emotional and physical symptoms intensify beyond typical PMS experiences​​​​. 

According to the same study, women with ADHD may also be more susceptible to episodes of postpartum depression symptoms (PPD) due to the change in hormone levels following a pregnancy, especially since these hormones directly affect ADHD.

Impact on ADHD Medication

Psychiatric research also suggests that depleted estrogen levels can negatively impact the effectiveness of stimulant medications used to treat ADHD. As estrogen levels drop, particularly during menstruation, these medications may become less effective, making the usual symptoms of ADHD more challenging to manage​​​​.

This connection highlights the importance of considering hormonal fluctuations when treating ADHD in women and those who menstruate, particularly those who also suffer from PMDD. ✅


Managing ADHD Symptoms During the Luteal Phase

Even without a PMDD diagnosis, the luteal phase is tough enough for those of us with ADHD due to suddenly needing to adapt to low estrogen levels. The trick to getting on top of this is planning and predictability. 

To do this, you could:

Get Smart with Your Cycle

Use apps or your phone's calendar to track and understand your cycle. 🩸Many free apps send you notifications during certain phases of your cycle and remind you to log your period, which can be helpful if you forget. Try to line up your month with your cycle's rhythm. When the luteal phase hits, take a break from the intense stuff (like big projects or social events) if it's an option. 

Remember, we're usually much more sociable and productive during the follicular and ovulation phases, so that's the best time to tackle the tough stuff. Then, when the luteal phase rolls in, take it down a notch, and as your period kicks off, you can start ramping things back up gradually. 💕

Adjusting ADHD Medications

It's important to note that the effectiveness of ADHD medications, particularly stimulants, can be impacted during this phase due to hormonal fluctuations. Progesterone, which increases in the luteal phase, can diminish the beneficial effects of estrogen on the brain and potentially reduce the effectiveness of stimulant medications​​. It's worth checking in with your healthcare provider about this, as they may want to adjust your medication during this time to help you manage. 💊

Take Care Of Your Body

Incorporating lifestyle changes such as stress-reduction techniques, regular exercise, and a balanced diet can help mitigate the impact of hormonal fluctuations on ADHD symptoms, especially during the luteal phase. 

Practices like yoga, mindfulness, or deep breathing exercises can be particularly beneficial in managing stress and emotional dysregulation while also allowing your body the rest it needs as it prepares for your period to start. 😴

Support and Education

Joining support groups or seeking educational resources about managing ADHD and menstrual cycles can provide valuable insights and coping strategies. Sharing experiences with others who face similar challenges can also be a source of support and understanding.

General Management Strategies for ADHD and PMDD

As important as the general tips for the luteal phase are for those with PMDD, handling both ADHD and PMDD can be pretty complex, so it's all about using a holistic approach that goes beyond the basics. 👇

This includes:

  • If you suspect PMDD may be affecting you, it's crucial to seek a formal assessment, especially since PMDD is an officially recognized disorder. Regular check-ins with healthcare providers are essential to ensuring your treatment plan is effective and making necessary adjustments.

  • A balanced diet rich in nutrients can help stabilize mood and energy levels. Incorporating foods that support brain health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can be particularly beneficial. Supplements like magnesium, vitamin B complex, iron, zinc, and calcium can also support this further.

  • Regular exercise, even moderate activities like walking or yoga, can help manage both ADHD and PMDD symptoms by reducing stress and improving overall mood. 🧘

  • During the luteal phase, many people experience a significant drop in sleep quality. Research indicates the rapid hormonal change in PMDD contributes to this decline. 😪Adequate sleep is crucial for brain health and balance of hormones; sleep deprivation heightens the risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. Aiming for 8-9 hours of sleep per night is critical to managing symptoms effectively.

  • Research indicates that proper treatment with medications such as stimulants for ADHD or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during the luteal phase can be effective. It's essential to consult with a knowledgeable doctor to develop a treatment plan that considers the symptoms of both conditions.

  • Therapy can be a valuable tool in managing mood disorders, anxiety, and other severe symptoms associated with ADHD and PMDD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of counseling can offer strategies to cope with emotional and behavioral challenges.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that reproductive health, and specifically issues like PMDD, are not always given the recognition and validation they deserve. It's worth seeking a doctor or therapist specializing in these areas, ensuring you feel heard and supported. Don't settle for anyone who dismisses your symptoms or feelings - listen to your body and get the support you deserve. 💕

Key Takeaways

  • Estrogen's Role in Neurotransmitter Regulation: ADHD management can vary throughout the menstrual cycle due to estrogen's impact on neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

  • Vicious Cycle of Symptom Severity: The severity of ADHD symptoms and PMS/PMDD symptoms can exacerbate each other, creating a challenging cycle of increased symptoms.

  • Effectiveness of ADHD Medications: The efficacy of ADHD medications can fluctuate, especially during the luteal phase, due to hormonal changes.

  • Navigating the Luteal Phase: Knowing how your cycle impacts your mood and symptoms is essential, particularly for managing the more challenging luteal phase.


Key. strategies include:

  • Cycle tracking and planning activities and responsibilities accordingly
  • Adjusting medication where appropriate and under the supervision of a medical professional
  • Lifestyle changes related to sleep, nutrition and exercise
  • Learning about your specific symptoms and how they affect you throughout your cycle

  • Strategies for Managing PMDD with ADHD: For those diagnosed with PMDD and ADHD, specific management strategies can be implemented to handle the interplay of symptoms more effectively.


Key strategies include:

  • Seeking a formal PMDD diagnosis and regular healthcare consultations.
  • Adopting a diet rich in nutrients and maintaining regular physical activity.
  • Prioritizing adequate sleep to support brain health and hormone balance.
  • Consulting doctors for tailored medication plans and considering therapy for coping strategies.

  • Advocate for Your Health: Remember the importance of seeking specialized medical support for issues like PMDD to ensure your symptoms are validated and adequately addressed. You know your body best, and you deserve to get the help you need.

What’s Next?

Want to learn more about the PMS symptoms that can also be linked to ADHD, such as stress, anxiety, or mood dysregulation? Check out these related articles.

The Vicious Cycle Of ADHD And Stress Management

Navigating Emotional Dysregulation in ADHD

The Emotional Rollercoaster of ADHD and Chronic Irritability

ADHD and Anxiety: Understanding Their Coexistence

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ADHD & PMDD FAQ

What’s the difference between Premenstrual Syndrome and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder?

remenstrual Syndrome is a set of physical and emotional symptoms a woman may experience a week or so before their menstrual period. Symptoms include breast tenderness, bloating, changes in eating and sleeping habits and mood swings. PDD have similar symptoms but include extreme mood shifts that can disrupt life and relationships.

How is ADHD and PDD connected?

ADHD may have some symptoms that overlap with PDD. This can cause confusion when it comes to diagnosis, particularly since women often have symptoms of inattention, which are already challenging to observe.

What’s the best way to treat ADHD and PDD?

The best way to treat ADHD and PDD is to get a thorough consultation with your doctor. Together, he or she can give you an accurate diagnosis and devise a sustainable treatment plan for your symptoms, whether it’s ADHD, PDD, or both.

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