How to Recognize ADHD in Women

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with symptoms commonly starting during childhood. Symptoms can include difficultly focusing on tasks and trouble controlling impulsive behaviors.

The symptoms of ADHD can be categorized into two types of behavioral problems: inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsiveness.

Females are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, in which daydreaming and shyness are common, whereas it is more typical for males to have hyperactive-impulsive ADHD or combined presentation.

In this article, the way ADHD presents in women vs. men will be explored, including signs and symptoms to look out for and treatment for the condition.

How ADHD Differs in Women vs. Men

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls. This isn’t because girls don't have ADHD; it’s likely that the symptoms are often more subtle and harder to identify compared to boys.

Research has shown that boys with ADHD usually show externalized symptoms, such as acting out and shouting. Girls with ADHD typically present with internalized symptoms such as inattentiveness and low self-esteem.

A diagnosis may be missed in females with ADHD who have developed better coping strategies than males to mask their symptoms. Anxiety and depression, commonly found in female patients with ADHD, can lead to misdiagnosis.

Recap

Boys are three times more likely to get an ADHD diagnosis, but that doesn't mean girls don't get ADHD. ADHD symptoms in girls tend to be more internalized, making it easier to misdiagnose.

Common Signs of ADHD in Girls and Women

ADHD symptoms can show up differently in every individual. Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, in which daydreaming and shyness are common, whereas it is more typical for boys to have hyperactive-impulsive ADHD or combined presentation.

ADHD symptoms in girls may be thought of as character traits rather than ADHD, which is why they are often overlooked or explained away.

ADHD in Girls

Signs of ADHD in Girls

Verywell / Danie Drankwalter

Not all girls with ADHD will exhibit all of the following signs and symptoms. Having one or two of these symptoms does not equal an ADHD diagnosis. However, if these symptoms are happening frequently in a child you care for, it's a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider.

  • Appears withdrawn
  • Cries easily 
  • Daydreams
  • Disorganized and messy (in appearance and physical space)
  • Easily distracted 
  • Easily upset
  • Forgetful 
  • Hyper-talkative (always has lots to say, but is not good at listening)
  • Often late
  • Has problems completing tasks 
  • Shifts focus from one activity to another
  • Takes time to process information and directions
  • Verbally impulsive; blurts out and interrupts others

Role of Female Sex Hormones in ADHD

For many women and girls affected by ADHD, the severity of symptoms may fluctuate throughout the month, tied closely with their hormonal cycles.

Studies have shown that changes in estrogen levels at puberty and at menopause can dramatically impact a woman’s ADHD symptoms and affect memory, focus, and time management.

If you find your symptoms worsen with your menstrual cycle, speak to your healthcare provider about hormonal treatments available.

ADHD in Adult Women

ADHD symptoms may change in adulthood. Hyperactivity becomes less visible to an outsider, even though internal restlessness may remain, Inattentive symptoms of ADHD usually remain consistent.

Symptoms of ADHD in adult women include many of the same symptoms experienced by girls, but can also include:

  • Internal feelings of restlessness
  • Poor memory
  • Time blindness
  • Difficulties in relationships
  • Poor job performance
  • Continually losing or misplacing things

Recap

Women and girls tend to have inattentive type ADHD, which can have symptoms that include daydreaming, difficulty focusing, trouble completing tasks, and becoming easily distracted. In addition, research shows fluctuations in the female sex hormone estrogen may also affect the severity of symptoms in puberty and menopause.

How to Treat Symptoms of ADHD in Women

There’s no cure for ADHD. But several measures are available to help reduce the impact on people who live with it. Your healthcare provider may recommend one or more of the following:

Medication: Doctors often prescribe stimulant or non-stimulant medications to manage symptoms and improve functioning. Research shows that 70% of adults and 70% to 80% of children with ADHD have fewer ADHD symptoms when taking these medications.

Therapy: Research has found cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to be effective for people living with ADHD. It helps to develop new ways to cope with your ADHD symptoms in the world. Counseling or psychotherapy can also be helpful for people who are living with coexisting conditions, like depression and anxiety.

Social skills training: ADHD can negatively affect relationships and social interactions. Women who don’t yet have a diagnosis, or received one later in life, might find adjusting difficult. Training in social skills can help you find smoother integration and nurture relationships.

Recap

Treatment for ADHD may include medication, therapy, social skills training or a combination of all three.

Summary

Girls and women may be underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed when it comes to ADHD. This might be because they’ve become good at masking their symptoms. Or it might be that inattentive ADHD, commonly found in women and girls is not as easy to recognize.

The role of female hormones in the severity of ADHD symptoms should not be overlooked and should be taken into consideration when treating a female with ADHD.

A Word from Verywell

Although ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in males, researchers believe many women and girls are living with the condition without a diagnosis.

If you, or a child you care for, is experiencing the symptoms of ADHD, speak to your healthcare provider. While the condition is not curable, it is highly treatable. You do not have to suffer in silence.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What triggers ADHD?

    You may be able to minimize your symptoms by identifying your individual trigger points. Common triggers include stress, lack of sleep, and overstimulation.

  • What happens if you leave ADHD untreated?

    ADHD can have a significant impact on adults if they do not receive treatment for the condition. A systematic review of multiple studies found that untreated ADHD in adults can lead to job instability. Compared to women without ADHD, women diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have depressive symptoms, are more stressed and anxious, and have lower self-esteem.

  • What are differences between ADHD in men and women?

    Females with ADHD are reported to have fewer hyperactive/impulsive symptoms and more inattentive symptoms when compared with males with ADHD. A diagnosis may be missed in females with ADHD who have developed better coping strategies than males to mask their symptoms.

  • Can ADHD be cured?

    ADHD can't be prevented or cured. But spotting it early and having a good treatment plan can help a child or adult with ADHD manage their symptoms.

  • Is ADHD genetic?

    ADHD tends to run in families and, in most cases, it's thought the genes you inherit from your parents are a significant factor in developing the condition. Research shows that parents and siblings of a child with ADHD are more likely to have ADHD themselves.


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