Written by Dr. Tara Boustany, Pharm.D on
September 22, 2021
Written by Dr. Tara Boustany, Pharm.D on:

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Women with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often overlooked. ADHD is a mental disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive and process information.

It can be difficult for ADHD sufferers to do well in school or at work. Women with ADHD often experience symptoms differently than men.

Their symptoms may include difficulty with relationships, social life, work-life, and daily life. In this blog post, we will discuss ADHD in women: diagnosis, biases, symptoms, treatment.

How do you know if a woman has ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can affect anyone, but there are some ADHD symptoms that are more likely to be seen in women. Sex differences in adults with ADHD are well researched.

Diagnosed ADHD being more common in males than females. Women may have problems with organization and focus because of their strong verbal skills. This is not the case for boys who tend to fare better on written tasks due to their weaker verbal skills.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in women can cause learning disabilities. This is because ADHD affects how you think and read, write and do math.

ADHD in women can put them at a disadvantage academically speaking compared to people without ADHD. As young women with ADHD enter puberty and start producing less estrogen, this can lead to distractibility.

Why is there an under diagnosis of ADHD in girls and women compared to boys and men?

ADHD affects nearly 11 percent of children aged between five to 17 years old. By adulthood, ADHD has affected almost 14 percent of the population.

This number may be even higher since ADHD can go unnoticed until later on due to symptom manifestation. ADHD is more prevalent in males than females.

This can make it difficult for girls to get an accurate ADHD diagnosis since ADHD symptoms are often seen as something that only affects boys. ADHD boys tend to be more hyperactive than ADHD girls.

It may be tough for ADHD specialists to detect symptoms of ADHD when girls are not active in their surroundings (hyperactivity). Other disorders may also be present in conjunction with adult ADHD.

Comorbidities or coexisting conditions are defined as when you have more than one condition. The following are some of the most frequent mental health problems that women experience alongside their ADHD:

  • Substance abuse disorders. This is an addiction to alcohol or drugs
  • Anxiety disorders. An example is social anxiety disorder (SAD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders. Examples are anorexia or bulimia
  • Mood disorders. Examples are depression or bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder

These coexisting disorders are beneficial to be aware of since they can mimic ADHD-like symptoms. As a result, identifying ADHD might be more difficult.

How does ADHD present itself in women?

Women with ADHD might be inattentive, forgetful and have poor time management skills. This can lead to missed appointments and deadlines. ADHD makes it hard to pay attention.

ADHD symptoms are more common in boys than girls, but girls might compensate by doing well in school. Girls with ADHD tend to be diagnosed with depression as adults because it is thought that ADHD only exists during childhood.

In women, changing hormone levels can affect ADHD symptoms. Pregnancy and menopause are times when hormones fluctuate frequently. Inattention can increase after ovulation in your menstrual cycle.

Changes in estrogen levels throughout your menstrual cycle may make ADHD symptoms worse. This is particularly true for women with ADHD who have more impulsivity. The psychological and emotional consequences of ADHD in women have been extensively researched.

A woman with ADHD will have lower self-esteem throughout her menstrual cycle. She will have low self-esteem during the premenstrual phase.

A woman’s ADHD symptoms may change during her menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. This can happen because of any coexisting medical conditions she has.

ADHD symptoms can change after childbirth, and symptoms may improve or worsen. ADHD treatment is more likely to be effective if started during pregnancy, at least three months before giving birth.

ADHD medication can help keep ADHD symptoms under control. You can take ADHD medication throughout the last trimester of pregnancy and into the first few weeks after delivery.

ADHD in Women: Symptoms

Adult women with ADHD often live with their symptoms undiagnosed. This occurs for a variety of reasons. The most significant reason is that ADHD was long thought to primarily impact males.

Women are less socially disruptive than men, so their symptoms go undiagnosed. ADHD symptoms in women include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed in places with a lot of sounds and distractions. This can be at work, parties, or at a store.
  • You spend too much time trying coping strategies to avoid responsibilities.
  • You quit inviting people to your home due to the mess.
  • You try to hide the feeling of being hopelessly lost and behind at school or work.
  • You end up reading the same sentence over and over.
  • You tend to interrupt people while they are talking. Or you also blurt out responses.
  • You tend to be unorganized.
  • You tend to have stacks of unorganized papers, like bills that are due.
  • You tend to procrastinate on projects, not knowing where to start.
  • You tend to get hyperfocused on an activity. This can leave other important activities on the back burner.
  • Feeling behind leaves you feeling anxious and depressed.
  • You tend to make others feel like you aren’t paying attention or listening to them.

How ADHD Symptoms Differ in Women

Doctors tend to focus on ADHD in men. So, they might not notice it when it happens in adult women. ADHD symptoms in women are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

This is because of gender differences that can be difficult to diagnose. ADHD affects the brain differently in adult women than it does in adult men.

Some symptoms of ADHD go untreated because there is not enough research on young women who have these symptoms.

Women tend to have more inattentive symptoms of ADHD. This makes it hard for them to focus, listen, stay organized and pay attention to details. They can also have a harder time remembering things.

Data from the CDC states that boys are 12.9 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. This is compared to the 5.6 percent of diagnosis in girls. This large difference percentage is not because of a hidden diagnosis. It is because females with ADHD are consistently underdiagnosed.

While men and women are more similar than different, there are a few small gender differences. Young women have less coping strategies to handle difficult situations than young men.

Women and girls are less likely than males to show external symptoms such as aggressiveness. Women and girls tend to be more prone to anxiety disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, and depression.

Adult women typically handle stressful situations better than adult men. This results in less visible symptoms if any at all. This makes ADHD harder to diagnose, and results in ADHD being overlooked by doctors.

Common Signs of ADHD in Women

Adult women with ADHD are often misdiagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder. Research suggests that girls and women present themselves less frequently as impulsive.

Females typically experience difficulties focusing with ADHD. This can lead them to act out/misbehave without realizing why they do so. This can also cause them to have lower self-esteem.

A girl with ADHD is more likely to be diagnosed when she is an adult or in her teenage years. Eating disorders, obesity, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety are all more common among women with ADHD.

Although these issues are seen in the general population as well. These difficulties may also be observed in a variety of aspects of their lives:

Relationships

Adult women with ADHD can have the feeling of utter helplessness. This can lead to distrust, distance, or resentment. Women with ADHD may be plagued with doubts as to their own ability to cope and “do’, seen as an object who requires constant care and support.

You might be frustrated because you can’t help people. You might not be able to feel things like other people do. You might want to be like other people and do what they can do, like remember dates, make cookies, and show up on time for a date.

People might think that you don’t care because you can’t do the things that most people expect women to do. The best way to have a good relationship with your spouse, family or friends is to communicate about your ADHD.

Learning how it can affect the people around you can make for a happier life.

Social Life

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can affect a woman’s social life in many ways. Women with ADHD are more likely to have trouble at work and school.

This is because they’re less able to do things like follow deadlines, prepare ahead of time, or react to unanticipated stimuli. This can lower their self-esteem. It can be hard to deal with life stresses when living with ADHD.

For adult women, they may withdraw from society or spend time online. This is so they feel like they are in control of something creative.

Work

Women with ADHD may have more difficulty with organization and time management, which may lead to difficulties at work. Adult women with ADHD might need something fun while they work, so they don’t get bored.

Jobs that are creative are best for them because ADHD makes it hard to do boring or repetitive tasks. This puts them at risk for burnout by the end of the day. That’s why it’s critical to offer the employees opportunities for creativity throughout the day.

Women with ADHD may also have trouble with follow-through. This can lead them to miss deadlines or not complete projects.

ADHD in women can also make it difficult to focus in a work environment. Loud noises and people can make it hard to get work accomplished.

School

A lot of times girls in school go with undiagnosed ADHD. ADHD in women is more likely to show up as inattentive ADHD.

Inattentive ADHD does not have the same symptoms or behavior issues like hyperactive impulsive ADHD.

Girls tend to hyperfocus more on their interests. Undiagnosed ADHD then happens because parents and teachers think the student is doing fine.

Women tend to be diagnosed with ADHD when they are teenagers. This is because ADHD symptoms become visible during this time. School can be difficult and stressful, so the ADHD gets worse.

ADHD may make it harder for women to sit still through classes, complete homework or participate in class. ADHD can also cause problems with maintaining relationships with teachers and classmates.

Daily Life

Women with ADHD have a hard time doing things that are their responsibility. Things like chores, organizing, and keeping track of appointments. They need reminders to do these things.

ADHD may make it harder for women to manage money, pay the bills on time or remember important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. A woman with ADHD may believe that others find her to be unqualified and lazy, as a result of these challenges.

Women with ADHD may also struggle with low self-esteem which can lead to anxiety, insecurity or depression in some cases. ADHD women have trouble focusing, forgetfulness, and impulsivity.

This might contribute to their lack of organization skills. Their frustration is compounded when they try to complete daily tasks.

Treatment for ADHD in Women

There are many ways to treat ADHD in women. Treating ADHD can include medications such as Ritalin, Strattera, and Adderall. Stimulant medications are the first line of a medication regimen for the majority of people with adult ADHD.

Stimulants increase dopamine levels to normalize neurotransmitter activity associated with impulsivity and hyperactivity. Another option is non-stimulant medication taken once daily called Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine).

ADHD treatments can also include various forms of psychotherapy and cognitive training. Support groups and talking to a psychologist might also help with ADHD symptoms in women.

Women with ADHD may also benefit from interventions like neurofeedback. This can help them learn better ways to control their emotions. It will be easier for them to manage distractions that happen throughout the day.

Treating ADHD can also include ADHD coaching for women. ADHD is a condition that can be treated with a combination of ADHD treatment options. These include complementary medicines and diet therapies.

Mental health professionals can help people with ADHD find the appropriate treatment. There are various treatment options. They may include medications, therapy, counseling, coaching, and more.

It is possible to find a way to cope with ADHD symptoms by integrating some techniques into your life. This allows you to have a more balanced life with some accomplishments.

ADHD in Women vs Men

There are many gender differences when it comes to ADHD symptoms. These gender differences mean that ADHD often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in women.

Women with ADHD are told they have depression or anxiety disorders. This is because the ADHD symptoms overlap. ADHD medications used for treating depression can make ADHD worse instead of better.

It is estimated that 90% of people who have attention deficit disorder are male. This is largely due to society’s preconception that men are supposed to act hyperactive and unfocused on tasks at hand.

Hyperactive ADHD can cause them to fidget, constantly move, be disruptive, and impatient. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that affects both sexes.

Men tend to show ADHD in the following ways:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Driving recklessly
  • Taking risks
  • Substance abuse

Women with ADHD can be inattentive, forgetful, and have poor time management skills. This can lead to missed appointments and deadlines.

ADHD makes it hard to pay attention. ADHD symptoms are more prevalent in males than females, but women may compensate by excelling in school.

Women tend to be diagnosed with depression as adults because it is thought that ADHD only exists during childhood. ADHD can present itself in women as issues with organization and focus because of their strong verbal skills.

Young women may be disorganized and have difficulty with focus due to their verbal strengths. ADHD is also associated with learning disabilities. This can cause girls with ADHD to struggle academically.

Women who have ADHD can feel restless or anxious without ADHD medication. ADHD symptoms are very commonly misdiagnosed in women between the ages of 20-45.

ADHD symptoms can be masked by other mental health problems or internalized. It is already harder to get an ADHD diagnosis in adults. They may not go to see a doctor because they think it is only for kids.

Living with a Woman with ADHD

ADHD in women can make them slightly harder to live with. ADHD is a hard time for people without ADHD in the household. The family will need to find different ways of doing things. They will also need to keep their house organized and be on top of everything.

ADHD may seem difficult for women because it is much less socially acceptable for them to have ADHD-related struggles than it is for men.

Husbands tend to be less tolerant of their wives’ ADHD behaviors than wives of men with ADHD. Women with ADHD are negatively impacted by chronic stress both physically and psychologically.

ADHD can affect intimacy and relationships for both sexes but more so for females. Women’s stress levels are likely to be higher than those of males. This is owing to their greater domestic and childcare responsibilities.

Famous Women with ADHD

Many famous and powerful girls throughout history were found out years after their death. They were diagnosed with ADHD only after someone noticed that they had all the signs.

This includes the American poet Emily Dickinson. Emily wrote thousands of poems during her life but she kept them hidden from everyone. But she did show them to her close family members because she trusted them.

People say that Queen Elizabeth I had ADHD. Many people have heard about her throwing knives at palace staff who annoyed her.

Emma Watson is one celebrity with ADHD who is still alive and well. Emma was diagnosed as a child with ADHD but it wasn’t until her second year at Oxford that she realized what ADHD really meant to her life.

ADHD has been a challenge for Emma but she’s used it to work in her favor. ADHD isn’t always something that holds people back, sometimes it can be helpful.

Zooey Deschanel is another famous woman with ADHD. She has said ADHD is what makes her interesting. ADHD makes her hyper and helps her get through life.

Simone Biles speaks openly about her ADHD and says ADHD is what makes her so successful. ADHD helps Simone focus on the sport and keeps her from getting bored with it. ADHD has not stopped Simone from being a very talented gymnast, in fact, it might be one of the reasons she’s so good!

Concluding Thoughts

Women with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often overlooked. For many women with ADHD living their everyday lives can be a constant struggle but it doesn’t have to stay this way.

Now that there is more awareness that ADHD exists beyond childhood they can seek help. If you think your loved one may benefit from ADHD treatment then seek out an experienced professional specializing in adult ADHD.

If you believe that your symptoms might be due to ADHD, please start by consulting with our medical staff. We can give you a comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis.

We’ll help answer any questions or concerns you may have about the condition and how it relates to your life. It’s important that you know what treatment options are available. This will help you make an informed decision when considering if medication is right for you. Our mental health professionals will work hard to provide support every step of the way!

 

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