Conditions

ADHD in Women: Signs, Symptoms, and Why It’s Often Undiagnosed

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder. Yet, in women – and girls – ADHD often goes undiagnosed. In children 17 and younger, 13% of boys are diagnosed with ADHD, compared with just 6% of girls. This doesn’t necessarily mean that ADHD is less common in girls; data suggests that women and girls with […]

By Alan Deibel, LCPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder. Yet, in women – and girls – ADHD often goes undiagnosed.

In children 17 and younger, 13% of boys are diagnosed with ADHD, compared with just 6% of girls. This doesn’t necessarily mean that ADHD is less common in girls; data suggests that women and girls with ADHD often don’t get a clinical diagnosis. 

Fortunately, getting a diagnosis and receiving treatment can help you manage your symptoms effectively and move toward self-acceptance.

Why Is ADHD Often Misdiagnosed in Women?

ADHD in women and girls often goes undiagnosed — or it’s misdiagnosed as another condition. But why?

“ADHD is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed in women due to differences in how symptoms manifest. Women might exhibit internal struggles rather than external hyperactivity, leading to under-recognition,” says Kristian Wilson, a licensed mental health counselor with Grow Therapy. “Societal expectations and gender bias can also contribute to this misdiagnosis.

Women might exhibit internal struggles rather than external hyperactivity, leading to under-recognition.

- Kristian Wilson, LMHC

Experts have identified a few different factors that contribute to the underdiagnosis of ADHD in women:

Gender Bias in ADHD Research: Up until fairly recently, ADHD was thought only to affect boys. As a result, research on ADHD centered mostly on males, and there was little information on how it affected women and girls specifically.

Symptom Differences: Women and girls with ADHD are more likely to have inattentive symptoms — less obvious to outsiders — than hyperactive symptoms (more evident to outsiders). 

Gender Bias in Clinicians: Because of the widespread myth that ADHD only — or mostly — affects men, many therapists and psychiatrists don’t screen for ADHD symptoms in women and girls.

Myths Among Teachers and Parents: Teachers and parents often recognize ADHD symptoms in children, leading to the children being screened for ADHD by a clinician. Because of the myth of ADHD mostly affecting boys — and because girls are likely to show less stereotypical symptoms — girls may be less likely to be screened. 

Missed Diagnosis: Women with ADHD are more likely to experience co-occurring conditions, like anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and mood disorders. Clinicians might attribute ADHD symptoms to those comorbid conditions when their patients have both disorders.

Masking: Some research suggests that women with ADHD are better at masking their symptoms. It’s unclear why this is, but cultural expectations — like the idea that messiness and disorganization are “unladylike” — may pressure girls to hide their symptoms.

When it comes to ADHD, early diagnosis (being diagnosed in childhood) can be beneficial. The “gender gap” in ADHD diagnosis is concerning because many women and girls are not receiving the needed treatment. 

“Late or missed ADHD diagnosis in women can result in challenges such as low self-esteem, difficulties in academic or work settings, strained relationships, and mental health issues,” Wilson notes. “It may also delay effective treatment, hindering personal and professional growth.”

Women who receive a late diagnosis of ADHD often experience adverse outcomes like substance abuse, interpersonal conflict, and feelings of inadequacy because of their symptoms.  

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD in Women?

Women can experience the same symptoms of ADHD as men. However, women are more likely to have inattentive symptoms than hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used to diagnose mental conditions, has identified three subtypes of ADHD. These subtypes are:

Your symptoms will differ depending on the type of ADHD you have. Because women are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, they tend to have more inattentive symptoms. 

Signs of ADHD in Women 

The signs of ADHD depend on the type of ADHD that you have. In adult women with ADHD, symptoms of inattention might be more common than hyperactive symptoms, but it’s possible to experience both.

But in general, the signs of ADHD include:

ADHD may also lead to health issues, including:

ADHD may also affect your relationships and social interactions, especially when untreated. Girls with ADHD may be more likely to experience negative social pressures and interpersonal conflict with friends or family.

What Should a Woman Do if She Suspects She Has ADHD?

If you suspect you have ADHD — or that your child has ADHD — it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional who specializes in the condition. This can be a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse with training and experience in treating ADHD. 

From there, you can put together a treatment plan. This may include therapy, medication, support groups, and/or self-care strategies. 

“Starting with a medical professional familiar with ADHD is ideal,” Wilson says. “However, if mental health care is inaccessible, self-help resources, books, and online support groups can provide information and coping strategies. While not a replacement for professional care, they can be a supportive starting point.”

How Is ADHD Treated in Women?

While ADHD can’t be “cured,” it’s possible to manage your symptoms. Getting an accurate diagnosis is the necessary first step in helping you find quality ADHD treatment. ADHD in women and girls is usually treated the same way as in men and boys. 

ADHD treatments include

People with ADHD often benefit from learning and practicing certain skills, such as:

A small 2020 study examined a tailored ADHD intervention that helped adult women learn the above skills. It found that it improved their symptoms and increased their executive function.

Therapy for ADHD

Counseling with a licensed therapist can help improve your overall quality of life. 

“Therapy can offer women with ADHD valuable tools for managing symptoms, improving executive functioning skills, building self-esteem, and addressing emotional well-being,” Wilson says. “Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness can be particularly beneficial.”

Therapy for ADHD can involve:

Additionally, therapy often involves working on collateral challenges from ADHD, such as self-esteem or relationship issues.

Therapy can offer women with ADHD valuable tools for managing symptoms, improving executive functioning skills, building self-esteem, and addressing emotional well-being.

- Kristian Wilson, LMHC

How Do I Find a Therapist for ADHD? 

Grow Therapy’s search tool makes it easier to find a therapist for ADHD. Simply select the “ADHD” option under the “Specialization” drop-down menu. Our filters allow you to search for a therapist who operates in your state and takes your insurance. 

Our filters will give you a curated list of ADHD therapists who fit your specifications. You can view their profiles and availability, and can book an appointment directly through our system when you find a therapist that resonates with you. 

Our search tool also allows you to find providers that offer medication management, such as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) and psychiatrists, who can prescribe medication for ADHD as well. 

Find an ADHD therapist

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What Are Good Coping Mechanisms for ADHD?

Learning healthy coping strategies for ADHD can also make a world of difference. These skills can be learned and practiced through therapy, skills training, and ADHD coaching — but you can also learn these skills on your own. 

You can try the following: 

Remember, everyone’s journey with ADHD is different, and what works for one person might not work for another. “Embrace your strengths, seek support, and explore strategies that work for you,” Wilson suggests. It’s essential to remain patient with yourself and seek what best supports your unique needs.

Treating ADHD with Grow Therapy

In women and girls, ADHD often goes undiagnosed. This is partly because of the myth that only men and boys have the condition and partly because the symptoms of ADHD can show up differently in females. 

Remember that you’re not alone in this journey,” Wilson says. “ADHD doesn’t define your worth or potential. With determination and self-compassion, you can navigate challenges and harness your unique abilities for personal growth and success.

Although ADHD symptoms can be challenging to manage, many treatment options can improve your symptoms and help you cope better with the demands of everyday life. Speaking with a therapist who specializes in ADHD may be very helpful. Use our search tool today to find a therapist suited to you. 

FAQs

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6% of girls are diagnosed with ADHD. However, girls are underdiagnosed with ADHD, meaning the actual figure is higher. Although many women with ADHD are diagnosed in adulthood, there are few concrete statistics on how common ADHD is in women.

  • Generally, ADHD medications work by improving neural communication in the brain. This leads to a number of benefits, including: - Increased focus - Improved attention span - Reduced impulsivity - Easier regulation of emotions and behavior There are different drug treatment options for ADHD. These include: - Stimulant medications like dextroamphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta), and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) - Non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine (Strattera) or clonidine (Kapvay) Each medication has its own benefits and side effects. If one kind of ADHD medication doesn’t work for you, consider using another. Women with ADHD may also benefit from treatment for any co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depressive disorders. The right treatment plan can help with your daily functioning and improve your overall quality of life.

  • ADHD may be misdiagnosed as: - Bipolar disorder - Depression - Sleep disorders - Anxiety disorders - Autism ADHD may be mistaken for these conditions and vice versa. It’s also possible to have ADHD and one or more of the above conditions.

  • Compared to women without ADHD, women with ADHD are more likely to experience adverse outcomes like: - Lower self-esteem - More anxiety - Sleep difficulties - Feeling that they lack control Research also shows that women with ADHD often perceive themselves as “stupid” or “lazy,” particularly when not diagnosed. They may feel ashamed and blame themselves for their symptoms.

About the author
Alan Deibel, LCPC

Alan Deibel is a licensed clinical professional counselor with over 12 years of experience who specializes in ADHD, addiction, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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