ADHD Symptoms in Women: What to Look For
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that often starts in childhood but may not be diagnosed until the teenage or adult years. Men are more likely to have ADHD, but research suggests that more women have ADHD than previously believed. Also, when ADHD symptoms exist, they can look different in women than in men. Please continue reading to find out some of the gender differences in ADHD symptoms and what to look for in women with ADHD.
What are the 3 key symptoms used to diagnose ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults can present in three different ways:
Predominantly inattentive ADHD
People with this type of ADHD are easily distracted and find it difficult to finish tasks, organize their daily routine, pay attention to details, and follow conversations.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
People with this type of ADHD tend to fidget, talk excessively, speak at inappropriate moments, interrupt others, not wait for their turn, be unable to sit still for long, feel restless, make careless mistakes, and show impulsivity.
Combined or mixed ADHD
This type of ADHD has both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
Is ADHD in women different from ADHD in men?
Yes, ADHD in women can present differently from ADHD in men. Also, ADHD symptoms can look different in adult women compared to young girls.
What does ADHD look like in females?
ADHD in women tends to cause more inattentive symptoms and fewer hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms. However, this does not mean that women or young girls with ADHD cannot have problems with hyperactivity or impulse control. Research shows women are just as likely as men to have inattentive-type ADHD symptoms but less likely than men to have the hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD symptoms.
In addition, research has found that ADHD women and girls tend to have related symptoms such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. In contrast, men and boys tend to have hyperactivity, impulsivity, and disruptive behaviors.
Various factors, such as hormonal fluctuations during the different transitional periods in a woman’s life, could explain the differences in ADHD in women and men.
For example, women have a larger hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a role in learning and memory. Also, sex hormones such as estrogen affect brain function. Women undergo natural hormone fluctuations when menstruating, during pregnancy, after childbirth, and during menopause. In addition, the use of external hormones, such as oral contraception or hormone therapy at menopause, can also play a role in women with ADHD experiencing different symptoms from men with ADHD.
Why is undiagnosed ADHD common in women?
As mentioned above, women tend to have inattentive-type symptoms, which can be more difficult to identify than hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms. In addition, there is a gender bias, such that a health care professional may not look for or recognize ADHD in women, putting the symptoms down to character traits. Also, many women tend to hide their symptoms due to social or cultural expectations and gender expectations (for instance, hyperactivity is more socially acceptable in boys and adult men).
Yet, undiagnosed ADHD can affect work and personal life and lead to unhealthy relationships and co-occurring conditions such as eating disorders.
If you or a loved one struggles with restlessness, disorganization with daily tasks, trouble keeping track of time, missing deadlines, difficulty paying attention, lack of focus, forgetfulness, mood swings, low self-esteem, or difficulty controlling emotions, you should see a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
To make an ADHD diagnosis, healthcare providers look for various symptoms. There are 9 possible symptoms in the inattentive subtype and 9 possible symptoms in the hyperactive/impulsive subtype. To be diagnosed with a subtype, you should have at least 6 of the 9 symptoms of that subtype present for a minimum of 6 months. For a diagnosis of the mixed ADHD subtype, you should have at least 6 symptoms from each subtype (a total of 12 symptoms) for greater than 6 months.
What are the treatment options for women with ADHD?
ADHD medications and psychotherapy are the mainstays of treatment for ADHD in adult women and men. A combination of therapy and medication can make daily life easier for affected persons. Examples of commonly prescribed ADHD medications include:
- Stimulant medications such as dextroamphetamine/amphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin), and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse).
- Non-stimulant medications such as clonidine (Kapvay), atomoxetine (Strattera), guanfacine (Intuniv), and viloxazine (Qelbree).
- Antidepressants such as imipramine (Tofranil), desipramine (Norpramin), nortriptyline (Pamelor), and bupropion (Wellbutrin).
Women struggling with the common signs and symptoms of ADHD can also work with an ADHD coach to learn life management skills. A support group can provide useful information on lifestyle changes and coping strategies. Most women with ADHD can lead fulfilling lives with the proper diagnosis and treatment.