How does ADHD present itself in adult women?

adhd in women

Women with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often live undiagnosed due to the fact that women tend to have less obvious or socially disruptive symptoms than men.

It is important to achieve an ADHD diagnosis as soon as possible, as undiagnosed or unmanaged ADHD can often be the underlying basis for other common presentations such as anxiety, depression, substance misuse and alcohol dependence, mood swings, addictive behaviours, and weight management issues.

Here we will discuss why ADHD symptoms may differ in women, and why these symptoms are frequently overlooked. We will also look at how ADHD can impact women’s daily lives, and what can be done to help manage ADHD in adult women.

ADHD Symptoms in Women

One of the reasons why ADHD frequently goes undiagnosed in women is that their symptoms often differ from those of men and boys.

ADHD comes in three presentations: hyperactive/impulsive, inattentive, or a combination of the two. Most commonly, males tend to have hyperactive/impulsive ADHD, the symptoms of which include being disruptive, restless, talkative, fidgety, impulsive and impatient.

Women on the other hand are more likely to exhibit inattentive ADHD. Inattentive ADHD presents itself in an inability to listen, focus, and pay attention to details. Individuals with inattentive ADHD may also struggle to be organised and to remember things, and they are often shy or impulsive.

It is easier to categorise the symptoms of inattentive ADHD as personality traits rather than symptoms of a neurological condition, whereas the symptoms of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD are more instantly recognisable. 

The impact of ADHD on women’s lives

When an individual has undiagnosed ADHD, life can feel isolating and confusing. People living with an undiagnosed neurological condition can find that they spend a lot of time and effort trying to behave “normally” in areas such as their work, social life, and relationships.

Women with undiagnosed ADHD often struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, wishing they could be a better partner, mother, or friend, who leads a more ordered life and is able to care for their family more fully. Women living with undiagnosed ADHD often strive to be more organised in elements of life such as remembering birthdays or school events, or arriving at appointments in a timely manner. Societal pressures and feelings of being unable to achieve a certain way of life often lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and stress.

Women with undiagnosed ADHD often find that adult friendships can be difficult to navigate because social rules seem complicated. For example, a person with ADHD may talk more than is generally deemed ‘socially acceptable’, or may struggle to listen, or drift off during a conversation, making them appear to be a ‘bad friend’. Women with ADHD may also dislike attending parties and other social gatherings due to feelings of shyness or social awkwardness. 

Work can also feel like a minefield to a person with undiagnosed ADHD. Individuals with ADHD often find it easier to work in a quiet, peaceful environment, and office life sometimes doesn’t lend itself well to this. Struggling to stay organised can also make every day feel like hard work.

Situations in daily life can also present problems to women with undiagnosed ADHD. ‘Life admin’ such as paying bills and remembering important dates can feel like a constant mountain to climb. Women often also feel embarrassed by their lack of organisation and avoid inviting guests to their home due to clutter and lack of order. Even a trip to the shops can feel overwhelming, with so many decisions to make about what to buy or which family meals to plan for the week.

For these reasons, getting an ADHD assessment and diagnosis can often feel like a huge relief and a weight lifted. Once ADHD is diagnosed, treatment and management options can make life seem much easier to navigate.

ADHD and Co-existing Conditions

ADHD specialists and psychiatrists often find that other conditions can be present alongside ADHD. These co-occurring conditions are called ‘comorbid conditions’. Common comorbid conditions in women who have ADHD are:

  • Substance use disorders, such as addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Mood disorders, like depression or bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders, including OCD
  • Sleep disorders

An experienced ADHD psychiatrist or specialist will be aware of the possibility of co-existing conditions and will take this into consideration during assessment and diagnosis.

Assessment and Diagnosis of ADHD

If an individual believes they have ADHD, it’s important to seek assessment and diagnosis as soon as possible. An accurate diagnosis and treatment plan by an ADHD specialist will help achieve relief from ADHD symptoms and have an extremely positive impact on quality of life.

An accurate diagnosis from an ADHD specialist will guide effective treatment and management strategies. The goal of diagnosis and treatment is to help an individual be more effective in their day-to-day life and reduce the extent to which the untreated ADHD interferes with getting things done and the person’s happiness. 

Sanctum is a specialist ADHD clinic which offers a comprehensive, multi-professional assessment for adults and children who may have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Sanctum’s diagnostic team all have specialist experience of assessing and supporting individuals with ADHD.

At Sanctum we understand the urgency of achieving an accurate ADHD diagnosis. That’s why we provide a rapid access, comprehensive approach to assessment. Starting your assessment journey couldn’t be easier, either call our team on 0161 302 0577, or fill out this form and we will get in touch.

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