ADHD in Women: How Common is it and Why is it Overlooked?
May 17, 2018
When you hear the phrase “ADHD,” a rambunctious young boy may be the image that comes to mind. This picture makes sense – child ADHD tends to manifest in boys as hyperactivity, and hyperactivity can be difficult to ignore. The problem with this picture is that we may be overlooking other important facets of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Why does ADHD in women get overlooked? In order to meet the criteria for diagnosis, ADHD symptoms must be present in childhood. Yet the fastest growing population seeking ADHD treatment isn’t children, it’s adult women between the ages of 24 and 36.
If you were to ask these women about their ADHD, they’d likely have similar stories. Oftentimes, young girls do show ADHD symptoms, they’re just frequently interpreted as different issues, or overlooked entirely.
In the classroom, a hyperactive boy may blurt out answers or be unable to sit still. Girls, on the other hand, might demonstrate hyperactivity in the form of incessant talking. Furthermore, girls are more likely to have the inattentive form of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which could manifest as quietly staring out a classroom window.
This contrast in ADHD symptoms is a major reason why so many girls are left undiagnosed – a hyperactive, disruptive boy simply draws more attention than an inattentive, distracted girl. This results in more boys being recommended for ADHD testing, and consequently, more boys being diagnosed.
What are the consequences of overlooking ADHD in women? The problem with leaving these girls undiagnosed is that they end up going through life with a unique set of challenges that they’re inadequately equipped to handle. This frequently results in struggles with school, self-esteem issues, or coexisting conditions like depression and anxiety. Often, women don’t recognize their symptoms of ADHD until their own children get diagnosed.
Roughly one third of women with ADHD have anxiety disorders as well. Girls are three times more likely to have been treated for a mood disorder prior to being diagnosed with ADHD, and are more likely to develop an eating disorder.
How many women with ADHD are undiagnosed? This oversight isn’t a particularly rare occurrence either. It’s estimated that up to 50% – 75% of women with ADHD go undiagnosed. It’s also often the most severe cases that finally get recognized. It could take a college student failing several classes, or an office manager getting written up for forgetting important meetings in order to trigger testing.
The good news here is that once the more severe cases do get diagnosed, these women are more likely to seek treatment. In many cases, family and friends have witnessed these struggles and are quick to provide support. On top of that, many women often feel hopeful once they’re simply able to put a name to the symptoms they’ve been feeling.
It’s important for us all to recognize that ADHD doesn’t just affect men and boys, and to not overlook the inattentive side this condition. And if you think you may have ADHD, seek help – you may find eye-opening results.
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