Updated: Jan 20
ADHD manifests differently for women. Learn the unique signs and symptoms.
In recent years, more experts have begun recognizing the effects of ADHD in women. While it’s best known as a children’s disorder, it often impacts adults. And that impact can be devastating.
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ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (also called ADD), is commonly overlooked in girls and women. Many adults don’t realize they have it until well into their 20s, or even decades later.
Often women will piece together their symptoms on their own, a therapist will finally diagnose them, or their child’s diagnosis will prompt them to realize they have it too. Women may be more likely to have the inattentive, or quiet, type of ADHD, which is more often missed.
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Some of the day-to-day experiences of women may include:
Frequently losing physical items like phones, keys, or paperwork
Often running late
Forgetting or overlooking important items, despite consequences
Becoming frustrated and down on yourself due to messiness or falling behind
Tending to have negative thoughts overall about yourself and your capabilities
Tending to have depression, anxiety, or other mental challenges
Pushing projects off until the last minute, and then marathoning to get it done
These problems can make life very difficult. On the other hand, women with this condition are often very creative, may have above-average intelligence, and are probably able to manage well in a crisis. Many highly successful women have been diagnosed with this disorder.
Here’s a look at the overall picture of adult attention-deficit disorder, the important elements to know about, it’s strengths and weaknesses for women, and next steps you can take.
How Common is it?
It’s difficult to say exactly how many women have ADHD. Very little research has looked at this, and the data available is outdated and narrow in scope. Some data shows that at least 4% of adults have this condition, and that men are more likely to be diagnosed.
I know in my practice, I run across more women who have ADHD than those who don’t. The negative thoughts that often accompany this condition tend to overlap and worsen other mental health struggles.
Because we know so many girls and women go undiagnosed, it’s difficult to confirm national statistics. It’s possible that millions more females qualify for this diagnosis than is currently reported.
Symptoms Specific to Women
One reason women may be diagnosed less is because symptoms can present differently than with men. According to the DSM-V, there are three different ways ADHD may present. Essentially the underlying condition is the same, but the symptoms can appear a bit differently, and are split into three categories.
Here’s a look at the symptoms of each type, including hyperactive, inattentive and combined type. Symptoms may lean towards one category or may be mixed. Women and girls more often have the predominantly inattentive type.
This symptom list is based on the DSM-V, however additional examples have been added for your reference.
Often makes careless mistakes or misses details relating to school, work, or other responsibilities (might overlook a form or miss an assignment)
Has difficulty sustaining attention during tasks (particularly repeated and/or boring tasks)
Often seems to not listen when spoken to (because the mind is wandering, "spacing out," or focused on other things)
Difficulty finishing homework, chores, or duties at work due to being side tracked or losing focus
Has a difficult time organizing tasks
Reluctance to start tedious jobs (ie, returning e-mails, completing forms, cleaning the kitchen)
Frequently misplaces important items such as phones, car keys, books, papers
Often distracted by surroundings, noises, activity, or one’s own wandering thoughts (which may spiral into s