When it comes to getting diagnosed and treated for ADHD, women face unique barriers. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD treatment for women.

Why ADHD is Undiagnosed in Women and Girls
Boys and men are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls and women are. There are several reasons for

It Manifests Differently
One of the biggest reasons for this diagnosis gap is that ADHD manifests differently in women than men. Women tend to have signs of ADHD that don’t fit our stereotypes about how the disorder works, meaning they can go unnoticed.

Old Stereotypes Die Hard
ADHD used to be seen exclusively as hyperactivity in children. Now, it’s understood to include potentially last a lifetime. But
these stereotypes linger in many practitioners, making it hard to recognize and diagnose ADHD symptoms when they don’t
look like that classic rambunctious little boy struggling to sit
still in class.

Gender Roles and Expectations
Girls and women aren’t expected to be disruptive or rambunctious the way boys are. Because of this, girls with ADHD grow up often learning to mask their symptoms, feel shameful, blame themselves, or manifest their symptoms inquieter, less obtrusive ways.

Gender Bias
Inattentive-type ADHD and non-disruptive symptoms are less likely to cause concerns for parents and health care professionals. This leads fewer girls with these symptoms to be referred for testing. Furthermore, the diagnostic materials for ADHD are biased toward symptomatic male behaviors. They often don’t address internalized symptoms and impairments, letting feminine traits slip through the cracks.

Hormonal Factors
Many people don’t know ADHD symptoms can fluctuate with hormonal cycles. This often makes it harder for people living with undiagnosed ADHD with menstrual cycles to identify their symptoms and think to get tested.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Women and Girls
Girls and women are more likely to have inattentive-type ADHD than hyperactive-impulsive type. Symptoms of this include:

  • Struggling to pay adequate attention to details
  • Not following through on instructions
  • Making “careless” mistakes in activities

Why ADHD is Undiagnosed in Women and Girls
Boys and men are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls and women are. There are several reasons for

  • Struggling to give tasks sustained attention
  • Failing to finish responsibilities (losing focus, getting sidetracked)
  • Trouble organizing tasks and activities
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Forgetfulness in daily activities
  • Internalizing symptoms, including depressed mood and anxiety

Here are a few unique ADHD factors in women that aren’t necessarily symptoms but may apply to you.

Women with ADHD often feel overwhelmed by the demands of their relationships. This can lead them to have fewer close relationships.

Women with ADHD are more likely than their male counterparts to experience hypersensitivities. These can include:

  • Sensory overload (to being touched or items like clothing tags, loud noises, shoelaces, etc.)
  • Somatic complaints (like headaches, migraines, nausea, and stomachaches)
  • Trouble sleeping

Comorbid Disorders
Women with ADHD are likely to have at least one comorbid disorder that can complicate their ADHD diagnosis, most commonly:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders
  • Dysregulated eating
  • Personality disorders

Treatment for ADHD

For help getting evaluated and treated for ADHD, it’s essential to find a health care provider who understands the unique ways ADHD can manifest in girls and women.
Mary June So is a psychiatric nurse practitioner specializing in using prescription medications to treat ADD and ADHD in adults at McLean Counseling Center. She can be reached directly at MJSO@mcleancounselingcenter.com.