The Surprising Symptoms of ADHD in Women

There’s a growing awareness around attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, research from 2018 found that the uptick in cases over the last two decades may be due to enhanced medical education efforts focused on ADHD.

Despite the increased awareness, however, there are still some widespread misconceptions about what ADHD looks like and who is most likely to have it. The symptoms often associated with the disorder are usually those which are found in boys, such as hyperactivity, fidgeting, excessive talking, impulsivity, and an inability to concentrate. But ADHD often presents much differently in women, which creates challenges when it comes to diagnosing the disorder.

What ADHD Symptoms Do Women Have?

Diagnosing ADHD in women is often more difficult due to the fact that symptoms in this group tend to be less obvious than those in men. The following are some of the symptoms a woman with ADHD might experience:

  • Time management challenges
  • Ongoing feelings of stress and being overwhelmed
  • Chronic disorganization
  • Struggles with money management
  • A history of anxiety and depression

The chronic stress that results from these symptoms can also lead to other challenges, such as difficulty sleeping, irritability, perfectionist tendencies, relationship problems, work problems, or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

Challenges for Women with ADHD

In general, the symptoms that present in children, particularly in boys, are easier to connect with the popular understanding of ADHD. Symptoms that women experience, on the other hand, are not closely associated with ADHD among the general population.

Unfortunately, that means that women are more likely to blame themselves for the ways in which they struggle due to ADHD, which can contribute to low self-esteem or a loss of confidence in their own judgement. Social expectations can also lead women to attribute their symptoms to their own failings rather than a disorder, and women may develop better coping strategies to hide their symptoms compared to men.

Similar misconceptions about ADHD can exist even within the medical field. Unless a physician is well-versed in the presentation of ADHD in women, it can potentially lead to a misdiagnosis when determining a cause for certain symptoms. For example, some of a woman’s symptoms may be attributed to anxiety or depression instead of ADHD.

Why Is ADHD Under-diagnosed in Women?

When it comes to adults with ADHD, many are under-diagnosed and under-treated. To make matters worse, there is a shortage of clinicians who are experienced in treating adult ADHD, especially in women. 

Representation of ADHD symptoms in both popular culture and medical literature largely showcases typical childhood symptoms. As a result, many women don’t make a connection between their own experiences and an ADHD diagnosis. 

Most of the symptoms of ADHD in women are largely experienced internally. For a woman struggling with ADHD symptoms, that means that unless she expresses them to someone, others might never be aware of her challenges. Because ADHD in women is not something that’s often represented in the media or discussed by doctors, she may not even suspect that the symptoms she’s experiencing are related to ADHD. 

In fact, many women don’t realize they may have ADHD until one of their own children is diagnosed. According to psychologist Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, “One of the most common pathways to a woman being diagnosed is that one of her children is diagnosed. She begins to educate herself and recognizes traits in herself.” Since ADHD is often diagnosed in children in elementary school, most of these women are in their thirties or forties by the time they receive their own diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Women with ADHD

Medication is one of the top treatment options for women with ADHD. However, women are also more likely to have physical and mental health concerns which must be taken into account. In particular, women with ADHD are at an increased risk of having coexisting anxiety compared to men and also having an increased likelihood of having been treated for major depression compared to men. Some may also struggle with learning disabilities or a history of substance abuse. Furthermore, changes in hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle and during perimenopause and menopause can lead to shifts in ADHD symptoms. 

Because of these complicating factors, it’s important for women to see a clinician who specializes in working with adult ADHD patients. This can help to ensure that they get a personalized approach to their care. For example, an experienced doctor can advise women with ADHD on the potential benefits of stimulant vs. non-stimulant medications to treat the disorder. In some cases, antidepressants may also assist in treatment. Other activities, such as psychotherapy and mindfulness activities may be incorporated into an integrated treatment plan.

If you’re a woman who may be struggling with ADHD, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your symptoms can be alleviated with the right treatment under the guidance of a caring and experienced clinician.