While men are much more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than women, experts believe that ADHD in women is significantly underdiagnosed. Not everyone with adult ADHD presents symptoms in the same way, and the symptoms that women show seem to be frequently overlooked. Additionally, women and girls with ADHD are far less likely to show external symptoms than men, and the symptoms they do exhibit can easily be misdiagnosed. As a result, women and girls suffer years of undiagnosed ADHD.
If you or a woman in your life is concerned about the possibility of having ADHD, keep reading.
How Does ADHD Affect Women Differently?
Women and men with ADHD experience many of the same symptoms but can present differently. For example, males with ADHD tend to act out or engage in disruptive behaviors, which may lead to them getting an accurate diagnosis sooner since their symptoms are obvious to others.
Female ADHD, however, tends to have more subtle symptoms like inattentiveness and daydreaming, which are easier to miss.
Since women are less likely to be diagnosed and treated during childhood, their symptoms can ultimately take a toll on their self-esteem. Untreated ADHD can disrupt relationships with adults and peers, leading to social isolation. Due to sex norms, girls and women with ADHD may also try to mask symptoms to fit in with their peers.
“In women, ADHD symptoms are impacted due to variation in the hormonal rhythm. The overlap of emotional symptoms during the menstrual cycle can cause worsening symptoms of ADHD. This is something you can speak with your psychiatrist about to find ways to support you.”Talkspace therapist Dr. Muhammad Munir, MD
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Women
ADHD presents in three different ways. Someone with ADHD may predominantly show symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactive or impulsive symptoms, or a combination of both.
Although it’s more common to see inattentive ADHD symptoms in women, it is possible for women to have any of the three types of ADHD.
Inattentive ADHD can make it difficult to concentrate or listen to others. It can be hard for people (women or men) with this type of ADHD to stay organized and keep track of important information. Women with inattentive ADHD may forget to complete important tasks, such as paying bills, shopping, or misplacing important items.
Girls and women with ADHD are sometimes described as being spacey or distracted. They may have so many thoughts or ideas that it becomes difficult to focus on one thing at a time. It can be hard for them to follow instructions or pay attention to details.
Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD type is associated with increased movement and a decreased attention span. While it’s more common for girls and women to present with inattentive symptoms, they may also show unrecognized internal hyperactive behaviors.
Many girls with ADHD are excessively chatty and struggle to keep quiet in school or at work, which is culturally seen as a social behavior. Impulsive behaviors, such as overspending, are also prevalent.
People with combined ADHD display six or more symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactivity/impulsivity. This is the most common presentation of ADHD, and an estimated 70% of adults with ADHD are diagnosed with the combined subtype.
What Causes ADHD in Women?
Experts don’t know exactly what causes ADHD in either men or women. Research consistently shows that ADHD runs in families, but there are additional factors that can increase the risk of someone developing it, such as brain injuries or low birth rates. Even though boys are more likely to be diagnosed, research suggests that males and females are equally likely to develop the condition.
Why does female ADHD often present in different ways? While social norms can explain some of the differences in presentation, it’s likely that hormones also play a role. Hormones influence ADHD symptoms in both men and women, and inattention symptoms can worsen after the ovulation phase in a woman’s menstrual cycle.
“The biological differences between the male and female brain can lead to different presentations of ADHD. Some of the emotional symptoms can complicate the presentation of impulsivity and distractibility in women. If you’re noticing these symptoms, we encourage you to speak with your prescriber.”Talkspace therapist Dr. Muhammad Munir, MD
Diagnosing ADHD in Women
ADHD symptoms in women are sometimes seen as personality traits instead of signs of a mental health condition. Women with ADHD may struggle to focus or pay attention to what’s happening around them. This can often be written off as nothing more than the distracted behavior of someone perceived as flighty or carefree. When women engage in impulsive behavior, like overspending, it might be perceived as irresponsibility rather than an ADHD symptom.
Women with ADHD don’t necessarily experience less severe symptoms, but the symptoms they do display tend to be more subtle. Many adult women are misdiagnosed with other conditions, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression.
Thankfully, as experts become more aware of female ADHD and its symptoms, it’s becoming easier for girls and women to get the care they need. The symptoms of ADHD can leave both men and women feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and insecure, but the treatment makes these symptoms much easier to manage.
Do men get diagnosed with ADHD more than women?
Men are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than women are, but as we’ve seen, that doesn’t mean that ADHD is less common in women. Males with ADHD are more likely to have behavioral issues, leading to a referral for ADHD treatment. Yet as previously noted, females with ADHD primarily display inattentive ADHD symptoms, which can be frequently overlooked.
Historically, gender bias and stereotypes might have prevented women from being diagnosed with ADHD. Until recently, ADHD research has largely focused on boys with hyperactivity. This means ADHD behavior patterns in girls are probably grossly underrepresented. Girls may also feel increased pressure to mask and hide symptoms from others.
While children are often diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school, many women aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. Untreated ADHD is linked with low self-esteem and can create significant challenges with time management, organization, and money management.
Treatment for ADHD in Women
Symptoms of ADHD can interfere with school, work, interpersonal relationships, and many other aspects of life. This is why ADHD diagnosis and treatment are so important. Signs of ADHD in women are often missed, which means many adult women simply don’t receive the care that they need and deserve.
There’s no cure for ADHD, but treatments like ADHD medication and therapy can help anyone learn to better manage their condition and reduce the impact it has on their day-to-day life. Not only can treatment reduce the severity of symptoms, but it can help people learn more about their ADHD and develop healthy coping skills.
If you or a woman in your life has shown symptoms of ADHD, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for an ADHD diagnosis. Whether you’re diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, as a teen, or in adulthood, treatment can dramatically improve your quality of life.
Looking for help? Talkspace is an online therapy platform that connects users with experienced, licensed, trained mental health professionals to treat any condition. If you’re a woman with ADHD or any other condition and looking for convenient and accessible ADHD treatment options, consider reaching out to Talkspace today.
You can find help and learn how to deal with ADHD.