Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why the Menstrual Cycle may affect ADHD Medication Dosing Levels

Do hormonal fluctuations result in variable ADHD medication dosage levels across the menstrual cycle?

We have investigated the impact of gender on ADHD in a number of earlier posts. We have covered topics such as:

Clearly, there are a number of boy/girl differences in the root causes, diagnoses and treatment methods for the disorder.

However, we need to investigate whether intra-individual differences are also an important factor, especially where medication treatment and medication dosing levels are concerned. Based on a number of studies, it appears that women may actually require different medication dosing levels depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle. Additionally, post-menopausal drugs such as estradiol patches may also alter the drug effects of certain ADHD medications such as amphetamines. The main culprits are most likely fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone.

Here are brief summaries on some of the relevant studies and their findings. Wherever possible, I will include a link to the original studies:
  • The link between Estradiol treatment and amphetamine medications: This study focused on whether pretreatment with estradiol played any role in the reaction to amphetamines. The drug used in this study was D-Amphetamine, which would correspond to the medication Dexedrine, however, this is also the predominantly active compound in medications such as Adderall or Vyvanse (once this "pro-drug" is metabolized). It is unclear at the moment whether chemical "cousins" to amphetamines, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate), also exhibit these fluctuations when combined with estradiol-releasing drugs.

    The study found that for females who took estradiol-supplementing treatments during the early follicular phase (pre-ovulation) of the menstrual cycle experienced an overall greater "stimulating" effect of the amphetamine medication (taken as 10 mg of amphetamine). This may suggest that a slightly lower dosage during this stage of the menstrual cycle might be warranted, and (as this blogger's personal hypothesis) may actually affect the addiction potential of ADHD stimulant drugs such as amphetamines.

  • Another study by the same group found that estrogen may be responsible for some of the heightened euphoric effect felt from amphetamine-based drugs. However, the hormone progesterone may actually counteract some of this euphoria. During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (after ovulation), high levels of both estrogen and progesterone are seen (although levels of both of these taper off going into menstruation), so the effects of estrogen may be curbed. During the late follicular phase, where progesterone levels are low and estrogen levels begin to spike, the "high" may be at its peak, especially if stimulants are involved.

  • A case study found that an increase in inattentive symptoms coincided cyclically with the menstrual cycle for a patient who was undergoing treatment for newly-diagnosed ADHD with a twice-daily dosing regimen of the stimulant medication Concerta.

  • The findings from these two studies suggest the possibility that a slightly smaller dosing schedule with amphetamine-based ADHD medications (such as Adderall, Vyvanse or Dexedrine) may be warranted during the follicular phase. However, during the luteal phase, when progesterone levels are higher, the amphetamine-based effects are less pronounced. This may correlate to a slightly higher dosing regimen for amphetamine-based treatment for ADHD and related disorders.

  • While there is a relatively good theoretical basis for this assertion above, practical consideration measures must also be considered. Based on the relative scarcity of studies (besides the 2 mentioned above) on the amphetamine-menstrual cycle interactions, it is unclear as to how pronounced the medication change should be.

    For instance, should someone taking 10 mg of Adderall during the follicular phase boost up to 15 mg for the luteal phase? 20 mg? 30 mg? Additionally, hormonal fluctuations vary during the phases themselves, such as the estrogen spike during the late follicular phase. Questions abound, especially when dealing with the brief ovulatory phase as well.

This blog post hopefully introduces what may be a new consideration to women who have ADHD and are currently taking stimulant-based medication treatments. Perhaps this posting simply confirms what you have already experienced.

Nevertheless, given the fact that administering variable levels of medication based on cyclical patterns such as time of day (like ramping up methylphenidate concentrations via controlled release formulations to offset "acute tolerance" based effects), and the fact that individuals with ADHD may experience seasonal variations in symptoms, at least suggests, that variable dosing of medications across the near-monthly period of the menstrual cycle may prove to be beneficial treatment strategy for females with ADHD.