This issue becomes even more complicated when you compare cases of undetected ADHD in men vs. women. The symptoms that women typically experience are often chalked up to other causes, while men’s symptoms tend to be easier to recognize as ADHD behaviors. That means women are more likely to endure the struggles of living with undetected ADHD. Learn what that experience is like and discover more about ADHD symptoms in women.

Women’s ADHD Symptoms

The difference between ADHD diagnoses in men and women is pronounced. Statistics show that women are 50% less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their male counterparts. Research has suggested that the difference in symptoms for men and women is a main contributor to what is sometimes referred to as the ADHD gender gap.

Men tend to display more of the “stereotypical” ADHD behaviors, making their condition easier to recognize and diagnose. They are more likely to exhibit hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, which underscores the idea that ADHD is primarily a behavioral disorder. Meanwhile, the symptoms of ADHD that tend to be more prominent in women aren’t always as clearly connected to the condition. Many women have subtle ADHD symptoms which are more internalized and cognitive in nature, so their condition isn’t as obvious to them or to others.

The following are some examples of common women’s ADHD symptoms:

  • Being disorganized
  • Falling behind on to-do lists
  • Forgetting about scheduled events and activities
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Losing things
  • Struggling to focus on tasks
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Being generally forgetful or absentminded
  • Issues with mood and anxiety

It’s true that many women without ADHD will experience these things from time to time. But for someone with ADHD, these types of symptoms are more relentless, and they create significant challenges in their day-to-day life.

Missed Diagnosis…or Misdiagnosis

The types of symptoms listed above can often be blamed on other triggers, like not getting enough sleep or feeling overwhelmed by a busy schedule. That creates an increased risk of a missed diagnosis. Even if friends or healthcare providers learn about or notice these symptoms occurring, they may not make the connection with a possible ADHD diagnosis.

Another complication that can happen with women’s ADHD symptoms is misdiagnosis. In this situation, the symptoms triggered by ADHD end up being attributed to another cause. For instance, a woman with these types of symptoms might be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Even if she does suffer from anxiety and receives treatment for it, the symptoms are likely to persist since the underlying ADHD is not being addressed.

Life with Undetected ADHD

So, what ends up happening to women with undiagnosed ADHD? The symptoms don’t disappear, but great efforts are often taken to make it seem as though they do. Many women become adept at masking their ADHD symptoms over time in order to avoid judgment from others. They intentionally repress their ADHD behaviors in an effort to hide their differences from others. The process can be incredibly exhausting since they are dealing with the added burden of covering up their symptoms while also trying to manage the symptoms themselves.

Undetected ADHD in women also has the potential to lower self-esteem and lead to issues with depression and anxiety. Some of those feelings may be related to what our society generally thinks of as the “right” way to be a woman. The culturally accepted idea of a good woman is organized, calm, and polite. She listens and pays attention. These stereotypes are internalized over the course of our lives, and even if we don’t agree with them, they are hard to ignore. When women with ADHD feel like they can’t live up to this standard, it can be very disheartening and even devastating.

In general, life with undetected ADHD comes with a lot of challenges. Everyone experiences ADHD in their own unique way, but it’s very hard to have the symptoms without understanding the cause behind them. For women, the added layers of gendered expectations can make things more complicated. They often end up blaming themselves for their perceived deficiencies and feeling ashamed that they seem unable to “get it together” while other people appear to be thriving.

Besides the mental health impacts, women with ADHD often face ramifications in their relationships and career as well. Some of the potential effects of undiagnosed ADHD in women include:

  • Development of depression or anxiety
  • Chronic stress and exhaustion
  • Marriage or relationship problems
  • Failure to succeed at work
  • Money management issues
  • Substance abuse

The Journey to ADHD Diagnosis

When a woman with ADHD is finally diagnosed, it can be life changing. In addition to finally understanding the cause behind her symptoms, she can access treatment that makes symptoms far more manageable. But reaching that point could take some time.

For many women with ADHD, it isn’t until their 30s or 40s that they finally get an accurate diagnosis. Because their symptoms aren’t as obvious, it may go overlooked in childhood. Then, as young women, some behaviors can be attributed to the demands of college academics or the early years of their career. Those who become mothers may suddenly recognize the symptoms in themselves after their own child is diagnosed with ADHD.

Women have to overcome a number of barriers to ADHD diagnosis. Their own symptom masking skills may be so effective by the time they are well into adulthood that it becomes harder to recognize the symptoms. Some clinicians are not well-versed in the different ways ADHD can present in women. Certain individuals also have complex feelings about being “labeled” due to ADHD stigma.

The good news is that there are excellent resources available for women who are curious about whether they have ADHD. Done is here to help with convenient telehealth assessments, and our team of licensed clinicians has years of experience with ADHD. Once treatment begins, the effects can often be felt almost immediately. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you think you may have undiagnosed ADHD.