Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition that usually starts in childhood. The condition can also affect adults and includes symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. Unfortunately, many children will go through their childhood and fail classes, only to be labeled as misguided by teachers or parents who never sought medical advice. The condition can dramatically affect their lives without intervention.
ADHD affects many children. An estimated 6.1 million children in the United States, equating to 9.4 percent between the ages of 2 and 17, have been diagnosed with the condition. However, this does not include the many others who won’t receive a diagnosis or will be misdiagnosed by their doctor, meaning the figure could be much higher. The statistics show that 388,000 children between the ages of 2 and 5, 2.4 million between the ages of 6x to 11, and 3.3 million adolescents 12 to 17.
The same study found that boys are more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls at 12.9 percent versus 5.6 percent. However, research shows that ADHD affects more girls than once reported. ADHD tends to be missed in girls because of how their symptoms manifest compared to boys, reflecting a bias in the diagnostic process. ADHD is considered the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in children. While the statistics vary, the prevalence in children globally is around 5 percent.
ADHD is prevalent in adults as well. While some children will grow out of their symptoms, some don’t and may not entirely understand why they feel that way. The prevalence of ADHD in adults globally is 2.8 percent, with the figure at 0.96 percent, doubling from 0.43 a decade before in the United States. The diagnosis rate in men is at 5.4 percent compared to 3.2 percent in women. ADHD in adults is growing four times faster than ADHD diagnoses in children throughout the U.S. Still, it’s underdiagnosed in adults, especially when compared to children.
ADHD frequently co-occurs with other mental health conditions as well. Rates of comorbid bipolar disorder in adults diagnosed with ADHD are between 5.1 and 47.1 percent, while one-fifth of adults with the condition have major depressive disorder. Around 50 percent have an anxiety disorder, and another 50 percent have personality disorders.
Although it’s more often diagnosed in boys and men more than girls and women, that doesn’t mean it’s less common. Below, we’ll examine ADHD symptoms in men and women and see if there are significant differences.
ADHD In Women
Women commonly live with undiagnosed ADHD, which happens partially because the condition was believed to affect mostly men. This is because women exhibit less obvious or socially disruptive symptoms than men or boys. For this reason, it’s vital to understand how ADHD symptoms differ in women and what you should look for if you’re concerned.
One reason ADHD commonly goes undiagnosed in women and girls is that the symptoms differ from that of men and boys. ADHD presents itself in three ways: inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive, and a combination of the two. Men and boys will exhibit hyperactive or impulsive symptoms, causing them to be:
- Always on the go
- Impatient, and
- Prone to mood swings
Women are more likely to exhibit the inattentive type, making it harder for them to:
- Pay attention to details
- Stay organized, and
- Remember things
Some of the characteristics, such as being impulsive or shy, are viewed as personality traits rather than symptoms.
It’s generally been found that while men and women with ADHD are more alike than different, there are some similar traits. For example, during adolescence, girls have fewer coping strategies and worse self-efficacy than boys. Women and girls have fewer externalizing symptoms like aggression than men. However, they show higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Why Are ADHD Symptoms in Women Overlooked?
ADHD symptoms in women are often overlooked because they’re viewed as character traits rather than ADHD. Some girls may be viewed as spacey, forgetful, daydreamers, or chatty. Later in life, that same woman might reach out for help for her ADHD, only to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression instead. These are serious problems because misdiagnosis doesn’t solve the problem. This relates back to what we said above about how it significantly impacts their lives.
While diagnosis rates and awareness are increasing about ADHD in women, it’s still not enough. Psychological distress, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and chronic stress are common. Women with ADHD may feel like their lives are out of control or in chaos, and ordinary tasks can seem impossible to achieve.
Women, Men, and ADHD
Fortunately, we’ve been able to differentiate between the differences between men and women with ADHD. Men with the condition are more likely to be involved in car accidents, substance abuse, suspensions in school, and anger and behavioral issues when compared to their female counterparts. One thing to point out is that men are more prone to these issues despite an ADHD diagnosis.
On the other hand, women are more prone to obesity, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Another thing to note is that women are more prone to these problems than men in the general population.
These issues will occur in different areas of their lives. Men will have problems at work. They’ll also be unable to complete their tasks or get mad at subordinates. Women are more likely to endure conflict at home. Women are expected to be the organizer, planners, and primary parents at home. They’re expected to remember anniversaries, birthdays, and keep track of events, all of which are hard to do for someone with ADHD.
ADHD in women doesn’t get noticed until college, which is when they start showing a lack of self-management and self-regulation. Risks include being influenced by sororities or the recreational drug scene. Although they’re not as wild as men with ADHD, they take many more risks compared to other girls without ADHD.
The underlying mechanisms of the condition are the same in females and males. Both exhibit difficulties with organization, planning, paying attention, and recalling details. How the symptoms play out is where the gender differences occur and why it’s likely social.
Since inattention is more subtle than hyperactivity, it’s why boys are nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. Once they reach adulthood, that figure shrinks to two to one, likely because girls are usually diagnosed at later stages in their lives compared to boys. Girls often “slip through the cracks” because they’re able to cover up their ADHD symptoms.
For women, responsibilities that include work and family make it challenging to cover up or manage their ADHD, but there are some things women can do to cope with the demands.
Women must ensure that their families and friends understand the condition so that they’ll be more supportive of their symptoms and have realistic expectations. Women must also simplify when possible, meaning reducing unnecessary stress and commitments by negotiating with their family and partner to take over the most challenging tasks.
It will also help to hire a professional organizer or work alongside a coach to help you develop positive organizational skills. If possible, get an assistant who can come anywhere from six to eight hours a week to do light cleaning and help out. Some people may think this is too expensive, but with ADHD, it’s too costly not to have help.
Co-Occurring Conditions and ADHD In Women
As we mentioned above, a person with ADHD may also be diagnosed with another condition. When you have more than one condition at a time, it’s called comorbid conditions or coexisting conditions. These are the most common conditions that women might endure when they get an ADHD diagnosis:
- Substance use disorders involving drugs and alcohol.
- Anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders, including bulimia or anorexia
- Mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or depression
It’s important to be aware of these coexisting conditions because they might cause symptoms that mimic ADHD, making a diagnosis even more complex. Fortunately, experienced clinicians will be mindful of these additional challenges.