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Female vs Male ADHD

Significantly more males than females are diagnosed with ADHD. Is ADHD really more prevalent in boys and men than in girls and women? Here we discuss the symptomatic ADHD gender differences that may account for this discrepancy, and use these symptoms to consider why the male ADHD diagnosis rate is higher.
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Female vs Male ADHD

21/12/2022
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Significantly more males than females are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is consistent within all research, information and statistics about ADHD, across all age groups. We’d like to understand why male ADHD diagnosis rates are higher. Is ADHD more prevalent in boys and men than in girls and women? Or is it that ADHD symptoms are not as recognisable in females than males? Could it also be that ADHD is underdiagnosed in women because of social perceptions and stereotypes?

We will examine the symptomatic ADHD gender differences that may account for this discrepancy, and use these symptoms to consider why the male ADHD diagnosis rate is higher.

Types of ADHD

To understand the symptoms of ADHD, first of all, we need to understand the different types of ADHD.

There are three main categories of ADHD:

1) Hyperactive/Impulsive Type

Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity but not inattention.

2) Inattentive Type 

Symptoms of inattention, but not hyperactivity-impulsivity (previously called ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder).

3) Combination Type 

Symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

Someone can have any type of ADHD regardless of gender. However, boys and men tend to display more hyperactive and impulsive behaviour while girls and women are more likely to have inattentive ADHD. But it’s not just about whether someone has hyperactive or inattentive symptoms, there are some symptomatic and behavioural differences that often seem to be determined by gender.

ADHD Symptoms By Gender

While ADHD presents differently in everyone, there are similar patterns that emerge between people of the same gender.

Female ADHD

Here are some possible symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity among women and girls with ADHD. We’ve included some lesser-known ADHD symptoms:

  • Feelings of despair, inadequacy and overwhelm
  • Lacking motivation
  • Disorganised, forgetful and often late
  • Being impatient
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Easily losing focus and daydreaming
  • Eating disorders
  • Hypersexuality
  • Prone to body-focused repetitive behaviours such as skin picking, hair pulling, leg bouncing, nail biting or cuticle picking
  • Crying with deep emotion, anger, and feelings of guilt and shame
  • Shyness due to social anxiety and sensory sensitivities
  • Varying hormone levels can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. This can intensify throughout menopause
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Difficulty maintaining attention and switching off while others are talking
  • Comorbid conditions such as depression, anxiety and OCD are more noticeable than ADHD and are often treated first
  • Anxiety might manifest physiologically in the form of headaches and/or nausea

It’s also worth noting that women sometimes struggle with perceived gender role expectations in their desire for acceptance; they may feel the need to provide support for their family while struggling to command their executive functions and receiving no support for themselves.

Female ADHD, if unrecognised can lead to someone feeling demoralised and struggling in secret as they don’t want to appear to be failing. These internal challenges can cause mental ill-health that may manifest itself in unexpected ways. Women might find themselves taking out their frustrations on their family members in the form of outbursts and emotional exchanges that appear to come out of nowhere.

Male ADHD

Although men can also present with very similar inattentive ADHD symptoms as women, both men and boys with ADHD are more likely to display behaviours such as:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Disruptive behaviour
  • Frequently losing items
  • Interrupting others during conversations
  • Aggressive and defensive behaviours
  • High-risk behaviors (e.g., substance misuse, speeding, unhealthy sexual behaviors, excessive financial spending)
  • Angry outbursts
  • Insensitivity

The article ADHD in Women vs. Men: Does Gender Play a Role in Symptoms? by PsychCentral has further symptoms listed by gender.

Why Is Male ADHD Diagnosed More Often?

What becomes very clear from the symptoms listed above is that male ADHD is more likely to be presented externally, whereas female ADHD symptoms are often internalised and therefore not as noticeable. What we also need to understand is that ADHD was first defined based on the behaviour of hyperactive boys and much of the available assessment still focuses on external behaviours.

Most mainstream research indicates no differences between male and female ADHD symptoms or how it affects people, but the lived experience of many women contradicts this. It may be time to re-evaluate gender differences in ADHD and shift the focus away from behaviour and more towards impairment.

Many women with ADHD experience an internal sense of impairment that is difficult to interpret but can be highly debilitating. When someone has inattentive symptoms and internalises their feelings, ADHD presentation can be very subtle and easily misinterpreted or missed altogether. Symptoms of ADHD can affect women later in life as they find juggling home/work/childcare challenging and become affected by hormonal changes too.

It would also seem that ADHD causes more difficulties for women than for men. As ADHD symptoms are felt so deeply in women, then this increases the urgency to detect it early on and start treatment and support as soon as possible. ADHD is a lifelong condition but it can be managed and treated, especially if diagnosed early in life.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of adults coming forward for assessment. Often these are adults with inattentive ADHD that was missed when they attended school. As adults, they have realised that their symptoms fit an ADHD profile. Interestingly, more women are seeking ADHD assessments than ever before and this has escalated since the pandemic.

It seems that further study and research are required to further understand how ADHD impacts different genders. Hopefully, this will provide opportunities to debunk the myths and stereotypes and support people with ADHD to access the help they need.

Our blog Why Is ADHD Underdiagnosed In Women? has more information about why more boys/men are diagnosed with ADHD than girls/women. It also looks at possible female ADHD presentations throughout different life stages.

Actress Michelle Rodriguez has spoken about her personal experience with ADHD

The good news is that the internet, and in particular social media, is helping to raise awareness of ADHD. An increasing number of people are opening up and sharing their personal experiences. More and more female celebrities, entrepreneurs and influencers are revealing their own ADHD diagnosis. Some of these women are highly successful and are great role models for other women who have or suspect they have ADHD.

Please contact us if you would like to find out more about booking a private assessment for ADHD or autism. It’s never too late to get a diagnosis and ADHD is highly treatable at any age. We offer a wide range of evidence-based treatments and therapies that are tailored to suit individual needs. You can reach us on 0800 061 4276  or by email at enquiries@adhdcentre.co.uk.

Further Reading

What Exactly Is ADHD?

Why Is ADHD Underdiagnosed In Women?

ADHD Looks Different In Women. Here’s How – And Why

Women With ADHD: No More Suffering In Silence

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