For most people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), their diagnosis came as a child. But did you know that boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than girls?
As per statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5.4% of women are diagnosed with ADHD as compared to 12.9% of men. In fact, most women do not have an accurate ADHD diagnosis until their 30s or 40s.
So, does that mean that women are less affected by ADHD?
As per a 2019 study by Florence D. Mowlem and team, ADHD in women is extensively underdiagnosed. Signs of ADHD in women are more likely to be missed. Even if similar symptoms are present in both boys and girls, more boys are referred to emergency services than girls.
Additionally, the common image of ADHD, that of hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, is not exactly how it manifests in women.
In this post, we will dive deeper into how ADHD in women is different than in men. We will also understand the signs of ADHD in women, its diagnosis, gender bias, and treatment options.
But before we start. Here’s a quick note concerning the gender terms used in this blog post –
At YMHP, we understand the differences and complications associated with gender and sex. We use terms like men/women and boys/girls to explain existing research and avoid misinformation or confusion. That said, as a platform, we welcome everyone and do not exclude any reader.
We look forward to creating a more inclusive space each day.
That’s it. Let’s get started.
What Does ADHD In Women Look Like?
ADHD is a neurological condition characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and short attention spans. It generally starts in childhood, but most people don’t have a proper diagnosis until adulthood.
The condition is thought to affect more men than women. However, research has shown that there are much more women with ADHD than previously thought.
The ADHD Gender Bias
The paradox of why ADHD affects men and women almost equally but how women are still highly underdiagnosed can be explained by the gender bias around the condition. For years, medical health professionals diagnosed more men with ADHD than women. At one point, there were 25 men for each woman diagnosed with ADHD. Today, we are in a much more hopeful scenario, with the ratio being 3:1.
But, these numbers do not mean that women across the globe are any less affected by ADHD.
The difference in diagnosis is attributed to the difference in ADHD symptoms in women as compared to men. Men have a higher degree of impulsivity and hyperactivity in their symptoms, which is much easier to spot. The signs of ADHD in women are much more subtle and internalized in nature. Due to this, counselors at school or parents might be unable to spot the early signs of the condition and refer them for further evaluation.
The diagnosis of ADHD in women can be further complicated with co-occurring conditions like bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety.
At best, research finds that ADHD in men is twice more likely to occur than in women. But by adulthood, this gender gap closes, and the prevalence is nearly equal. That ADHD in adult women is as common as that in men. Yet, thousands of women never receive a proper diagnosis.
Signs And Symptoms Of ADHD In Women
As mentioned above, rather than having hyperactivity or impulsivity-type symptoms, women have more internalized symptoms of ADHD. They are harder to spot and diagnose. Often, ADHD symptoms in women are brushed under the rug as the personality traits of a bubbly or socially awkward person. Additionally, women have the habit of developing rigid coping mechanisms that help them effectively mask their symptoms.
Women who show more apparent symptoms of ADHD get a diagnosis early on in life. As per research by The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, girls who are diagnosed with ADHD early on have the most severe symptoms among all the people diagnosed with the condition. This is generally because the initial ADHD symptoms in women often go unnoticed.
What Do ADHD Symptoms In Women Look Like?
1. Making careless mistakes or not being able to pay attention to details.
2. Have trouble concentrating on conversations
3. Struggling with organizing spaces like home and office.
4. Being easily distracted.
5. Losing things.
6. Having trouble following directions.
7. Avoiding work that requires concentration.
1. Having frequent daydreams.
6. Adopting extreme coping mechanisms to mask their ADHD symptoms.
1. Talking fast and excessively.
2. Being fidgety.
3. Acting impulsively.
4. Not being able to sustain their relationships.
When To Get Help?
ADHD, especially in women, is a complicated condition. It’s difficult to figure out whether your brain works differently or you have symptoms of ADHD. Although there are many tools labelled as ‘ADHD in Women Test’ available on the Internet, getting proper professional help is important.
If you suspect you have ADHD, consulting a specialist in ADHD diagnosis is the best way to move forward. This is even more important if your symptoms affect your daily life and affect your personal and professional life.
Your regular healthcare provider can also refer you to a specialist. If you see a therapist, they can help, too. Diagnosis of ADHD is the first step toward effectively dealing with the condition.
Treatment For ADHD In Women
For most people diagnosed with ADHD, the treatment options usually include medication, therapies, and lifestyle modifications. A professional can help you find the best-suited treatment plans for you.
In the case of treatment for ADHD in women, there are special considerations that need to be taken care of. A decrease in the hormone estrogen can lead to more severe symptoms of ADHD in adult women. These hormonal fluctuations can be triggered by:
Additionally, with a high number of co-occurring conditions, treatment for ADHD in women is required to deal with the symptoms associated with them. An ADHD specialist will help you figure out the best treatment plan for you. The main pillars for your ADHD treatment are:
Medications are an important part of the treatment plan for ADHD. Medications for ADHD are divided into two types – stimulant and non-stimulant. Stimulant medications increase the amount of neurotransmitters (think of dopamine) in the brain, whereas non-stimulants decrease them.
Additionally, women with ADHD might also use hormonal replacement therapy to manage and deal with their symptoms during menopause (which causes estrogen levels to dip).
One of the most useful medications for adults with ADHD is amphetamine. However, not everyone responds to medications in the same way. Therefore, it’s essential to consult your doctor before making the choice.
Disclaimer: The above-suggested medications should only be used after proper diagnosis and discussion with professionals. Unregulated use can be life-threatening.
ADHD can have far-fetched effects on almost every aspect of your life. It can make seemingly normal and mundane tasks difficult and impact your personal and professional life. Therefore, a lot of women with ADHD can do well with therapy and counseling. Working with an experienced cognitive-behavioral therapist can help you figure out how to manage your ADHD symptoms and address their impact on your life.
Research by Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) has shown that cognitive-behavior therapy is best suited for adults with ADHD. It’s even better when used with medications.
3. Lifestyle Modifications
Experimenting with new lifestyle modifications can help you figure out how to manage your symptoms, along with therapy and medications. The best modifications will solely depend on your ADHD symptoms. Diet, exercise control, productivity tools, and other interventions have helped women with ADHD overcome the barriers of their condition. Some people also use ADHD coaches who help you streamline your goals and work toward them while taking care of yourself.
ADHD in women is severely undiagnosed. This means millions of women across the world continue to struggle with a debilitating condition without the right help and support throughout their lives.
This caveat can be attributed to societal norms and gender bias in medicine. Moreover, the difference in ADHD symptoms in women as compared to men also plays a crucial role.
We hope this post on ADHD in women will help you understand more about the signs of ADHD in women and the treatment options available for them.
Looking to learn more about how ADHD affects adults? Click here to find out.
To continue learning about mental health daily, subscribe to Your Mental Health Pal.