Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is typically considered a childhood disorder, but it follows many people into their adult lives. As it does in childhood, ADHD impacts substantially more men than women. An estimated 5.4% of men aged 18 to 44 have ADHD compared to 3.2% of women, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. As ADHD is less common in women and affects them differently, many women also go undiagnosed. Take a closer look at the way ADHD manifests in adult females.
Typical Unique Symptoms Women With ADHD Experience
There are three main types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and a combination of the two conditions. Men tend to have the hyperactive/impulsive style of ADHD that many people associate with the condition. Women are more likely to have inattentive ADHD. Affected women find it harder to focus on tasks and pay attention to details.
Inattentive ADHD can make listening to others and remembering things more difficult, particularly in noisy environments such as busy offices and at parties. They may be withdrawn and shy, especially in social situations. Many women with ADHD are naturally introverted, preferring to avoid social gatherings altogether. Women with ADHD often seem disorganized in their personal and professional lives. They often have cluttered homes and workspaces.
There are exceptions, of course, with some women experiencing the hyperactive/impulsive style of ADHD more common in men. These women are more likely to be diagnosed early as they present in a way that is more commonly associated with ADHD.
Typical Symptoms Men and Women With ADHD Share
Like men with ADHD, women with ADHD often struggle to perform regular activities. This can lead to many of the same symptoms that men with ADHD experience. Like men, women can feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed. They may feel inadequate because they can’t perform as easily as their peers. Their life may seem out of control and even small daily tasks can seem insurmountable. This can make their self-esteem plummet.
Women with ADHD often face additional pressure because they are expected to be caretakers for their partners and any children. Feeling societal pressure to care for others and run a household can be very overwhelming for women who struggle to organize and take control of their own lives. Women with ADHD can feel inadequate when they forget birthdays. anniversaries, or children’s commitments or when they are expected to organize vacations and parties. They may also get down on themselves when they struggle to stay on top of laundry or dishes.
Like men, women with ADHD often engage in riskier behavior than their peers. Difficulty in self-regulating can make women with ADHD more likely to fall victim to peer pressure. They are more likely to experiment with sex, drugs, and alcohol than women without ADHD.
Link Between ADHD and Other Conditions in Women
The mental strain of ADHD can trigger other mental health conditions including anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, which can lead to substance abuse. There is also a strong link between ADHD in women and bipolar disorder. Sleep disorders that cause women with ADHD to struggle to fall asleep or wake in the night are also common. Many women with ADHD also have eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and a compulsion to overeat. Overeating can, of course, lead to another concurrent condition: obesity.
Later Diagnoses in Women
Accurate diagnoses from health care professionals can greatly improve the lives of women with ADHD. After diagnoses, women can receive medication to alleviate their symptoms and learn coping skills which help them function better in the world. Sadly though, many females with ADHD are not diagnosed until adulthood. Roughly three-quarters of women with ADHD are never diagnosed.
As the symptoms women with ADHD exhibit are usually more subtle than male symptoms, they are often confused with personality traits. Women with ADHD are often thought to be daydreamers, forgetful, or chatty, for example. Many health professionals think they know what ADHD looks like based on early clinical studies from the 1970s. However, as these studies examined young, hyperactive boys, they paint a very different picture of what a person with ADHD is like than the image most women with the condition present.
Like males, some females struggle with ADHD throughout their childhood. However, as they are not disruptive, as boys with ADHD can be, their challenges are undetected. Many women with ADHD remember being well-behaved schoolgirls but struggling to follow lessons in the classroom.
As they are not disruptive, many girls with ADHD find they can cover up their symptoms, which is a habit that continues into womanhood. For example, a woman who struggles to focus due to her ADHD might make an extra effort to look at anyone speaking to her, so she can appear like she’s paying attention.
Many boys find their ADHD symptoms decrease or even disappear. However, increased estrogen in the systems of teen girls typically makes their symptoms more intense. Many girls with ADHD find the problem becomes worse as they enter puberty. Other girls who never experienced ADHD symptoms suddenly start experiencing them during their adolescence. This late symptom onset for many females is another contributor to late diagnosis.
Coexisting conditions can often cause symptoms similar to ADHD. As ADHD is relatively uncommon in women, some health professionals may diagnose the coexisting condition without realizing ADHD is also at play.
Until ADHD is diagnosed and addressed, women often notice little change in their symptoms. Thankfully, experienced mental health practitioners are aware of common coexisting conditions and should make a thorough and accurate diagnosis.
Dealing with ADHD as a woman can be challenging due to limited understanding of the condition, but help is at hand. NeuroHealth in Arlington Heights is a family practice delivering mental health care to all children, teens, and adults with ADHD, regardless of their gender. Call us at 847-584-1671 or contact us online if you suspect or know you or someone you love has ADHD.