Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often thought of as a childhood condition primarily affecting boys. However, it is a type of neurodiversity that doesn’t discriminate based on gender, and it’s essential to recognise how it manifests differently in women. In this blog, we will delve into the signs of ADHD in women, the disparity in diagnosis between men and women, the three types of ADHD, and statistics regarding ADHD diagnosis in the UK.
Signs of ADHD in Women
ADHD symptoms can manifest differently in women compared to men, which can contribute to delayed or misdiagnosis. Here are some common signs of ADHD in women:
- Inattentiveness: Women with ADHD often struggle with inattentiveness. They might have difficulty focusing on tasks, forget appointments or deadlines, and frequently misplace items like keys or phones.
- Hyperactivity: While hyperactivity is a core feature of ADHD, it may be less obvious in women. Women might display internal restlessness, such as racing thoughts, as opposed to the physical hyperactivity typically seen in men.
- Emotional Sensitivity: Many women with ADHD experience heightened emotional sensitivity. They might be more prone to anxiety, mood swings, and low self-esteem.
- Impulsivity: Impulsivity can manifest differently in women. It may lead to impulsive shopping, overeating, or difficulty maintaining long-term relationships.
- Disorganisation: Women with ADHD may struggle with organisation and time management, resulting in messy living spaces and missed appointments.
The Three Kinds of ADHD
ADHD can be categorised into three subtypes, which apply to both men and women:
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: This subtype is characterised by difficulties in sustaining attention and following through with tasks. Women with this subtype might be more likely to be diagnosed later in life, as their symptoms may be less disruptive.
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: This subtype is characterised by hyperactivity and impulsivity. This presentation is more commonly associated with boys and men but can also affect women.
- Combined Presentation: Individuals with the combined presentation of ADHD exhibit both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. This can manifest similarly in both men and women.
Delayed Diagnosis and Gender Disparities
ADHD in women is frequently diagnosed later than in men, or sometimes it’s missed altogether. There are several factors contributing to this disparity:
- Social and Cultural Expectations: Girls are often expected to be more organised and well-behaved, which can lead to ADHD symptoms being overlooked. Women may also internalise their symptoms, making them less noticeable.
- Coping Mechanisms: Women may develop coping mechanisms, such as perfectionism, to manage their ADHD symptoms. This can mask the underlying condition.
- Misdiagnosis: Women with ADHD may be misdiagnosed with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, because of the emotional and psychological effects of the disorder.
- Subtype Differences: The predominantly inattentive subtype is more common in women. Since these individuals are less likely to display disruptive behaviours, their condition might go unnoticed.
Statistics on ADHD Diagnosis for Women in the UK
It is currently estimated that between 50-75% of women with ADHD in the UK remain undiagnosed. Men are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than women.
Girls who are diagnosed tend to be diagnosed at around 17 years of age — on average 9 years later than boys; who often receive their diagnosis by the age of 8. This gap in diagnosis results in increased risk of underachievement in education, as well as a greater chance of young girls developing mental health problems.
Later in life, undiagnosed and untreated ADHD in women can also result in an increased risk of postpartum depression, a greater chance of unplanned pregnancy, difficulties with low mood and emotional regulation, as well as hormonal fluctuations resulting in reduced cognitive functioning and emotional dysregulation during the menopause and menstruation.
ADHD is not a gender-specific disorder, but its symptoms can present differently in women, leading to delayed diagnosis and sometimes missed opportunities for proper treatment. Understanding the unique signs of ADHD in women, the three subtypes, and the disparities in diagnosis is crucial. Raising awareness about these issues is a crucial step towards providing better support and care for women and girls with ADHD in the UK and beyond. Early diagnosis and appropriate interventions can empower individuals to manage their condition and lead fulfilling lives.