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Understanding ADHD in Women: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages and genders. It is characterised by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with daily life activities.
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Understanding ADHD in Women: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

13/04/2023
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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages and genders. It is characterised by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with daily life activities. Although ADHD is commonly associated with boys, it is equally prevalent in girls; however, girls are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions, such as anxiety or depression, which can delay appropriate treatment.

In this article, we are going to discuss the challenges and best practices of diagnosing ADHD in females, symptoms, and explore why they’re often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed until adulthood.

ADHD Symptoms in Women: How Does ADHD Present in Women and Girls?

Although it is often perceived as a predominantly male condition, research has shown that ADHD is just as common in females; however, women and girls often go undiagnosed or get misdiagnosed due to the less obvious way ADHD tends to present in them.

Symptoms of ADHD in women can be quite different from those in men. While boys and men tend to display more outwardly physical symptoms such as hyperactivity and impulsivity, girls and women often present with more internal symptoms such as inattention and disorganisation. Oftentimes, these symptoms are overlooked or brushed off as the person being lazy, when in actual fact, they are symptoms of ADHD.

Some of the most common symptoms of ADHD in women and girls include:

  • Inattention: Women with ADHD may have trouble paying attention to tasks or conversations, forget important details, or become easily distracted. They may also struggle with planning and organisation.
  • Hyperfocus: While inattention is a common symptom of ADHD, some women may experience the opposite. They may become so engrossed in a task or activity that they lose track of time and neglect other responsibilities.
  • Emotional dysregulation: Women with ADHD may experience intense emotions that can be difficult to control. They may be quick to anger, cry easily, or feel overwhelmed by stress.
  • Low self-esteem: Women with ADHD may struggle with self-esteem issues due to difficulties with organisation and time management. They may feel like they are constantly failing, especially if they are berated for their symptoms, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Impulsivity: While women may not always display the same level of hyperactivity as men, they can and often do still struggle with impulsivity. This can manifest as interrupting others during conversations, acting without thinking, or making impulsive decisions.
  • Social difficulties: Women with ADHD may struggle with social interactions and forming meaningful relationships. They may have trouble recognising social cues or understanding the nuances of social interactions, resulting in fragile friendships and relationships.

It’s important to note that not every woman with ADHD will experience all of these symptoms, and symptoms may vary in severity. It’s also important to note that whilst hyperactivity is more common in men and boys, lots of women and girls with ADHD also display hyperactive symptoms, such as fidgeting, not being able to sit still, and having lots of energy to burn.

If you suspect that you or your child may have ADHD, it’s important to seek a proper ADHD diagnosis from a mental health professional. An ADHD specialist can help you understand the symptoms you are experiencing and provide guidance on the best treatment options.

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Diagnosing ADHD in Women and Girls: Challenges and Best Practices

Diagnosing ADHD in women and girls can take longer compared to diagnosing the condition in men and boys, and there are multiple reasons for this, including medical gender bias and differences in the way the condition can present in different genders.

When is ADHD generally diagnosed?

ADHD can be diagnosed at any age, but it is usually identified during childhood. The symptoms of ADHD may become noticeable during preschool or early primary school years, as this is when children are expected to sit still, pay attention and follow instructions. Due to the inattention and hyperactivity associated with ADHD, this can be hard for some children, and therefore this is when symptoms typically become apparent. However, some children may not be diagnosed until they reach adolescence or adulthood, when the demands of life become more complex and the symptoms of ADHD become more pronounced. Women are more likely to have undiagnosed ADHD and be diagnosed in adulthood, even if ADHD symptoms exist during childhood.

Why does it often take longer to diagnose girls compared to boys?

ADHD often presents differently in girls than in boys, which can make it challenging to recognise and diagnose. Boys with ADHD are more likely to display hyperactive and impulsive behaviour, while girls with ADHD tend to exhibit symptoms of inattention and disorganisation. Girls may also internalise their symptoms, leading to other mental health conditions like anxiety, social anxiety disorder, depression and low self-esteem. This can mask the underlying ADHD and result in misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis.

Another reason for the delay in diagnosing ADHD in girls is the lack of awareness and understanding of ADHD in females. Historically, ADHD has been perceived as a male disorder and the diagnostic criteria were based on studies of boys. This has led to a gender bias in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, with girls and women often being overlooked or dismissed.

How is the tide changing with regards to best practices when diagnosing ADHD in women and girls?

Things are changing with regards to best practices for diagnosing ADHD in women and girls. More research is being conducted on the differences in how ADHD presents in females, and diagnostic criteria are being revised to include gender-specific symptoms. This has resulted in a greater understanding of the challenges faced by women and girls with ADHD, and the need for early intervention and treatment.

ADHD Treatment Options for Women and Girls: Medication, Therapy and Lifestyle Changes

ADHD can present a number of challenges in daily life, but fortunately, there is a range of treatment options out there to help mitigate symptoms and improve daily functioning. It’s best to consult with a medical professional in order to determine the most effective treatment plan, but some commonly used techniques and strategies include:

Medication

Medication is often the first line of treatment for ADHD, and it can be very effective in reducing symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. There are two main types of medication used to treat ADHD: stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulant medications work by increasing the levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain, which can improve focus, attention and impulse control. Non-stimulant medications work by targeting other neurotransmitters in the brain, such as noradrenaline and serotonin.

It’s important to note that medication is not a cure for ADHD and it may not be suitable for everyone. Our team of experienced clinicians will work with you to determine the most appropriate medication for your needs, if applicable, and we will monitor your progress closely to ensure that you are receiving the best possible care. That being said, it can be very effective for those with inattentive ADHD, and is also effective in managing more moderate hyperactive and impulsive symptoms.

Therapy

In addition to medication, therapy can be a valuable tool in managing ADHD. Therapy can help you develop coping strategies for managing symptoms, improve self-esteem and build social skills.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative patterns of thought and behaviour. It can be particularly helpful for women and girls with ADHD who may struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety or depression.

Family therapy can also be beneficial for parents of girls with ADHD. Family therapy can help parents understand their child’s behaviour and develop strategies for managing symptoms in the home environment.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to medication and therapy, there are also lifestyle changes that can be made to help manage ADHD symptoms. These lifestyle changes can include:

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Exercise

One of the most effective lifestyle changes for women and girls with ADHD is exercise. Exercise has been shown to increase neurotransmitters such as dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin, which are crucial for regulating mood, attention and focus. Regular exercise can also improve sleep quality, which is essential for people with ADHD who often struggle with insomnia.

Daily routine

Another helpful lifestyle change is establishing a consistent daily routine. This includes setting aside specific times for waking up, eating, working and winding down. Establishing a routine can help women and girls with ADHD stay organised and reduce feelings of overwhelm.

Mindfulness

Another lifestyle change is to incorporate mindfulness practices into daily life. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing and yoga can help reduce stress and increase emotional regulation, which are important for individuals with ADHD who may experience intense emotions.

Sleep habits

Lastly, it can be helpful to establish healthy sleep habits, such as creating a sleep-conducive environment and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. Good sleep hygiene can help improve focus, mood and overall cognitive function.

Other coping strategies

In addition to the above, there are several other things women and girls can do to tackle some of the more common ADHD symptoms like inattention and hyperfocus. These include:

Using apps

One useful strategy is to use apps designed specifically for people with ADHD. These apps can assist in tasks such as time management, organisation and focus. For example, apps like Focus@Will and Brain.fm can help improve concentration, while Trello and Evernote can assist with task management and organisation. Other apps such as Habitica and Forest can help build healthy habits and reduce impulsivity by gamifying positive behaviours.

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Setting alarms

Setting alarms can be an effective way to overcome symptoms of ADHD. Lots of people with ADHD struggle with time management and forgetfulness, but setting alarms for important tasks can help you to stay on track. This can be done using phone alarms, smartwatches or even specialised medication reminder apps. Additionally, using visual reminders such as post-it notes or whiteboards can be helpful for remembering important tasks.

Daily adaptations

Making conscious adaptations to your routine can also help you to manage ADHD symptoms. For example, breaking larger tasks down into smaller, more manageable sections can make them feel less overwhelming. Similarly, establishing a consistent routine can help reduce the likelihood of forgetfulness and impulsivity. It can be helpful to schedule regular breaks throughout the day to prevent hyperfocus and burnout. Prioritising self-care activities such as exercise, meditation and adequate sleep can also help reduce symptoms of ADHD and improve overall well-being.

FAQs

What are the most common symptoms of ADHD in women and girls?

The most common symptoms of ADHD in females include difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Women and girls with ADHD may also experience emotional dysregulation, anxiety, and difficulty with organisation and time management.

How is ADHD diagnosed in women and girls, and what are some of the challenges in diagnosing ADHD?

ADHD is diagnosed in women and girls through a combination of clinical interviews, symptom assessments and psychological evaluations. Some of the challenges in diagnosing ADHD in females include societal stereotypes and a lack of awareness of how ADHD can present differently in women and girls.

What are the best treatment options for ADHD in women, and how can women and girls manage their symptoms?

Treatment options for ADHD in females may include medication, therapy and lifestyle changes such as exercise and healthy eating habits. Women and girls can also manage their symptoms through organisation tools like planners and timers.

What kind of medication is prescribed for ADHD in women, and what are the potential side effects?

Medications commonly prescribed for ADHD include stimulants and non-stimulants. Potential side effects may include loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and mood changes.

What types of therapy can be effective in treating ADHD in women, and how do they work?

Types of therapy that can be effective in treating ADHD in women include cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness-based approaches, and coaching. These therapies can help women and girls develop coping strategies for managing their symptoms and changing their thought patterns from negative to positive.

What lifestyle changes can women and girls with ADHD make to manage their symptoms?

Lifestyle changes that can be helpful for managing ADHD symptoms include regular exercise, healthy eating habits and getting enough sleep. People with ADHD can also benefit from finding activities that they enjoy and that help them relax.

How can parents, teachers and employers support women and girls with ADHD in school and the workplace?

Parents, teachers, and employers can support women and girls with ADHD by providing accommodations like extended time on tests and flexible work schedules. Educating others about ADHD can also help reduce stigma and improve understanding.

What resources are available for women and girls with ADHD, and how can they find support and information?

Resources for women with ADHD include support groups, online communities and advocacy organisations. At The ADHD Centre, we also offer a range of ADHD resources that can be helpful.

How does ADHD in females differ from ADHD in males, and what are the implications for diagnosis and treatment?

ADHD in females differs from ADHD in males in that symptoms may be less outwardly visible and may manifest differently. This can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment.

What is the latest research on ADHD in women and girls, and what new treatments or interventions are being developed?

The latest research on ADHD in females is exploring how hormones and brain development may impact symptoms and treatment options. New interventions like transcranial magnetic stimulation are also being developed.

ADHD Support and Resources for Women: Finding Help and Coping Strategies

At The ADHD Centre, we understand the unique challenges faced by women and girls with ADHD, and we offer a range of treatment options to help manage symptoms. We also offer an expert diagnosis service whereby one of our professionals will take you through an assessment to determine whether you could have ADHD, and if so, what the next steps might be.

To find out more about the support and resources available for women and girls with ADHD at The ADHD Centre, please call us on 0800 061 4276 or email us at enquiries@adhdcentre.co.uk.

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We have been diagnosing and treating people with ADHD since 2009.

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