ADHD Symptoms in Women

Many females remain undiagnosed

Disorganized woman making a dress
Many females with ADD remain undiagnosed until adulthood. Some are overlooked altogether and never diagnosed. John Burke/Getty Images

Females often live with undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), partly because it's a condition that was traditionally thought to affect mostly males, but also because females tend to have a less obvious type than males. In school, ADHD symptoms in girls may get overlooked because females are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, which doesn't have the visible behavior problems that hyperactive/impulsive ADHD usually does.

The 3 Types of ADHD

ADHD comes in three types: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and a combination of the two. Males tend to have the hyperactive/impulsive kind, which may cause them to be fidgety, always on the go, interrupt others, feel restless, talk a lot, make snap decisions, have mood swings, and be impatient. Females have a tendency to exhibit the inattentive type, which makes it hard to focus, pay attention to details, stay organized, listen, and remember things.

ADHD Symptoms in Women May Be Chalked up to Personality

ADHD symptoms in girls are often explained as character traits rather than ADHD. For example, a girl might be thought of as spacey, a day-dreamer, forgetful, or chatty. Later in life, a woman might reach out for help for her ADHD, only to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety instead.

The good news is that there is an increasing awareness about ADHD symptoms in women, which means women are able to get the help they need.

ADHD Symptoms in Women Are Real

Women with ADHD face the same feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted that men with ADHD may feel. Psychological distress, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and chronic stress are common. Often women with ADHD feel that their lives are out of control or in chaos, and daily tasks may seem impossibly huge.

Though many women are expected to be caretakers, this role can be extremely difficult for a woman with ADHD. When things feel out of control and she has trouble organizing and planning her own life, taking care of others seems nearly impossible. This role also may greatly increase her feelings of inadequacy.

Understanding ADHD Symptoms in Women

Here are some ways that ADHD might show up in your life:

  • Your desk at work is piled high with papers. Even when you make a big effort to tidy it, it only stays clear for a day or two.
  • Being at the office feels difficult. The noise and people make it hard to get work done.
  • You often stay late at the office, as the only time you can work well is when everyone else has left and it's quiet.
  • You spend a lot of time and effort to look "normal," and hope no one notices the real you.
  • You feel like you're drowning in paper. At work, home, in your car, and even in your purse. You have an uneasy feeling that unpaid bills and forgotten projects are hiding under the paper.
  • You dislike going to parties and other social gatherings because they make you feel overwhelmed and shy.
  • Your mind drifts during conversations unless you're the one talking or it's a topic you find very interesting.
  • Friendships can be difficult to navigate because social rules seem complicated.
  • You talk more than anyone else you know. 
  • Growing up, you were always described as a tomboy because you had so much energy and liked to be busy.
  • You don't feel organized with money and are usually behind with bills. 
  • You often overspend to compensate for other problems. For example, you don't have a clean outfit to wear for an office party so you buy a new one. Or you forgot someone's birthday, so you buy an expensive present to make up for it.
  • Shopping trips make you feel better in the moment, but you feel regret later when the credit card bill arrives.
  • You spend a lot of time, money, and research on products to help you be more organized, but then you don't use them.
  • You feel very embarrassed to have guests visit your home because it's so cluttered and disorganized.
  • You wish you were able to be a better friend, partner, or mom, and that you would do the things that other people do. For example, that you could remember birthdays, bake cookies, and arrive on time for a date.
  • Because you're not able to do the things that society expects women to do, people may think you don't care.
  • Grocery stores overwhelm you, and you find it hard to make decisions about what to buy.
  • You often forget a key ingredient for a meal even though you take longer in the store than most people do.
  • It feels like each day is spent responding to requests and limiting disasters rather than moving forward with your goals.
  • You feel frustrated that people you went to school with pass you by with their achievements, even though you know you're just as smart.
  • You feel crushing sadness and frustration that you haven't met your potential.
  • Little things can push you over the top and you become emotional.
  • You find it hard to relax.

Many women are relieved to learn that behaviors they have been struggling with for so long are because of ADHD.

Conditions That Commonly Occur Along With ADHD in Women

Other conditions can also be present along with ADHD. When you have more than one condition, they are called comorbid conditions or coexisting conditions. Here are some conditions that women often have in addition to their ADHD:

  • Substance use disorders, such as alcohol or drugs
  • Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder (SAD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulemia
  • Mood disorders, like depression or bipolar disorder

It's good to be aware of these coexisting conditions because they can cause symptoms that look similar to ADHD. This, in turn, can make diagnosing ADHD more complex. However, an experienced clinician will be aware of this challenge. 

Treatment Can Help

If you think you might have ADHD, it's important to be diagnosed by a healthcare professional. An accurate diagnosis and treatment will allow you to get relief from your symptoms and greatly improve the quality of your life.

Source:

Mayo Clinic Staff. Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Mayo Clinic. Updated August 15, 2017.

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