For many women, the symptoms of ADHD begin in childhood, but the condition is not diagnosed until they reach their 30s or 40s.
There are three main types of ADHD:
- Hyperactive ADHD - with symptoms of lack of impulse control and hyperactivity
- Inattentive ADHD - with symptoms related to a lack of focus
- Combination ADHD - with symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattention.
There is a growing body of research, like this article in Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, that shows that ADHD is underdiagnosed and undertreated in females.
There are several possible reasons for this:
- Males tend to have the classic recognizable features of hyperactivity, while females tend to have symptoms related to inattention. These are generally more internal, and harder to spot by teachers and others.
- Females are more likely than males to be able to mask their symptoms and compensate in order to function well in school and work in spite of their condition.
- Because of the cultural attitudes that say that ADHD is a male condition, healthcare workers and other professionals may miss the signs of ADHD in women.
- Because some of the effects of inattentive ADHD are similar to those of other disorders like anxiety and depression, it can be difficult to diagnose a separate ADHD condition. Many women and girls with ADHD also suffer from these disorders, so the diagnosis process can be complicated.
The American Psychiatric Association says that many adults with ADHD are not aware that they have the condition. Check out this list of the most common signs of ADHD in women.
It’s important to note that if you recognize some of these features in yourself, it is not a diagnosis of ADHD. If you’d like the help of a professional counselor, check out our list of the top online therapy sites to find a therapist with experience in this area.
1. Frequent distraction
At work, this can mean that it’s difficult to concentrate when others are around you. At home, you may hop frequently from one task to another. Your inattention may make it difficult to focus on larger tasks, like reading long passages or completing complex paperwork.
This can lead to careless mistakes and incomplete work. Inattention can also cause an inability to relax, which is damaging to self-esteem and induces stress and insomnia. Women who suffer from ADHD often find that it is difficult to make choices. From small decisions, like ordering lunch, to big decisions like job changes and buying a house, inattention can cause you to feel overwhelmed and anxious.
2. Communication problems
This can take various forms, like being extremely talkative and having difficulty maintaining conversations. You may not always be the best listener, frequently changing subjects. You may have difficulty tuning in to others in social situations, especially when there is a lot of activity in the environment to distract you.
One way that people with ADHD compensate for attention difficulties is by being extra chatty, even if they feel shy. If your relationship suffers from difficulty communicating or other issues, check out Cerebral, an online therapy service that specializes in talk therapy.
3. A lack of organization
The inattention associated with ADHD can cause people to feel disorganized. You may lose things—like your keys, wallet, and phone—no matter how many systems you try to put in place to stay organized. It may be difficult to set and maintain a “to-do list,” as you are likely to begin tasks but quickly lose focus, causing you to leave many things unfinished.
You may notice that you don’t manage your time well or that you often miss deadlines, no matter how well you understand what is required of you. With ADHD, it can be hard to stay on top of administrative tasks, at home and at work. You may find yourself putting out fires rather than making progress. A lack of attention and organization often leads to problems managing money.
Everyone experiences absent-mindedness now and then, but if you have noticed a long-term pattern of forgetfulness, it could be a sign of inattention ADHD. People with ADHD often forget daily tasks, like household chores or errands. You may notice that you frequently forget to return phone calls, pay bills, or keep social or business appointments.
5. Hyper-focus on certain areas
One way of coping with feelings of being overwhelmed by stimulating situations is to ignore certain areas and focus intensely on the ones that interest you. In girls, high achievement in certain subjects can cause teachers to take less notice of other possible ADHD symptoms. In adult women, it can mean excelling in certain areas and ignoring certain tasks.
You may gravitate towards fulfilling activities like cooking or gardening, but avoid certain tasks that require sustained mental effort, like reading long documents or filling out complicated forms.
6. Overspending. An inability to focus can lead to overspending. You may buy new items to replace lost ones or spend excessive amounts on organizational tools that never get used. Patterns of overspending can combine with neglected bills and postponed financial planning to contribute to poor long-term money management often seen in women with ADHD.
7. Sleep disturbances
There are a variety of reasons for insomnia, but ADHD can certainly contribute. Many people with ADHD have difficulty relaxing, which can lead to the inability to sleep. When insomnia becomes chronic, it can lead to a variety of physical and mental health consequences.
Everyone experiences feelings of frustration that they haven’t met their potential, but this feeling can be especially pronounced in women with ADHD. You may notice others achieving great things and wonder why you can never get ahead of your daily tasks and reach your goals. It could be that ADHD and its associated inattention are slowing you down.
9. Low self-esteem
When you feel like your life is in chaos, or you worry that you have to constantly hide your lack of organization from the people in your life, you can start to feel bad about yourself. This is more common among females than males with ADHD, probably linked to the fact that the condition is more of an internal struggle for females than it is for males. If you struggle with low self-esteem and other mental health issues, consider working with a licensed mental health counselor. They can help you change negative self-talk and get on a healing path. If your low self-esteem is causing you to want to hurt yourself, contact a suicide hotline immediately.
10. Other mental health symptoms
Many women with ADHD also suffer from conditions like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, phobias, or eating disorders. It can be complicated to separate ADHD from other coexisting conditions like anxiety and depression, but an experienced mental health professional will be able to guide you through the diagnostic process.
If left untreated, ADHD can lead to a variety of consequences, such as:
- Marital and relationship problems
- Emotional dysregulation
- Functional difficulties at work and at home
- Lower productivity
- Marital problems
- Risky sexual behavior
- Substance abuse
ADHD is known to have a genetic component, so if you have a family member diagnosed with ADHD, you may be at greater risk of having it.
If you recognize some of the signs of ADHD in yourself, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. The diagnosis of ADHD involves a medical evaluation, a comprehensive review of past and current symptoms, and completing a series of forms designed specifically for adult ADHD. Treatment options for ADHD include therapy, behavior management training, and medication. If you are considering consulting a therapist in a remote setting, our list of the best online therapy sites is a great place to start.