ADHD in Women: Symptoms and Diagnosis

ADHD in females
Medically reviewed by Dr. Devindra Bhatt

Overview

Do you keep misplacing your keys, missing deadlines, or procrastinating your unfinished projects, chances are the underlying cause is ADHD. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the focus, attention, and thoughts of a person. 

The symptoms in girls are often overlooked, as ADHD was thought to affect men only. The undiagnosed and untreated ADHD in women causes challenges as they continue into adulthood. This blog explores the symptoms of ADHD in girls and how it can be diagnosed in women.

What are the symptoms of ADHD in females?

ADHD in women and girls presents itself in three ways i.e. inattentiveness (difficulty in focusing), hyperactivity/impulsivity, and mixed. Mixed symptoms are a combination of the two categories, with inattentiveness being more common in girls. 

Research in 2023 found that women with undiagnosed ADHD spend their lives feeling “stupid” and “lazy” and blaming themselves for their failures.

Struggling with ADHD can take a toll on your self-esteem and confidence. Let us help you feel empowered again.

Inattentiveness symptoms

Inattentive ADHD symptoms impact attention-demanding tasks such as schoolwork, relationships, driving, etc. They include

  • Trouble focusing or staying focused on a task
  • Zoning out or not being able to remain attentive in situations such as conversations
  • Starting projects easily but having trouble completing them
  • Making mistakes because of not paying attention
  • Being forgetful or absentminded in your everyday life
  • Misplacing or losing your belongings frequently
  • Avoiding boring or tedious tasks such as chores
  • Not being able to prioritize essential tasks
  • Being distracted by your thoughts 

Hyperactivity / Impulsivity symptoms

Hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms are not common in women, but they’re still possible. They negatively impact relationships, personal control, and work. They include

  • Fidgeting
  • Restlessness 
  • Not being able to sit still or frequently walking around
  • Being unusually active
  • Trouble with staying quiet
  • Talking excessively or over-explaining yourself
  • Being impatient and not being able to wait for your turn
  • Interrupting others while they are talking and having poor conversational restraint
  • Problems with maintaining social boundaries

Other indications of ADHD

While uncommon, other indications of ADHD in girls in women include

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Eating disorders
  • Difficulty in maintaining romantic relationships
  • Trouble keeping friendships
  • Not being able to keep personal environments such as home or workplace clean.
  • Becoming sexually active at a young age
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse

ADHD and Menopause

Women experience extreme hormonal changes, which can worsen their symptoms of ADHD during and through the time leading up to menopause. This is because of the decline or long periods of lower estrogen levels in the female body during menopause and perimenopause (a time period where symptoms of menopause appear, such as less regular periods).

During menopause, a woman can experience physical changes, symptoms of depression, and problems with sleep, memory, and maintaining focus. For women with ADHD, this could further worsen their symptoms and make planning and concentrating even harder. They may experience anxiety, mood changes, and stress more than normal. 

Clinical psychologist at Mt. Kisko, New York, and the co-author of the book “Understanding Girls with ADHD, How They Feel and Why They Do What They Do”, Dr. Ellen Littman shares,

Women with ADHD can find themselves up to 10 years behind their peers in their developmental trajectories.

Why is ADHD underdiagnosed in women?

ADHD presents itself during childhood or adolescence and remains undiagnosed in women until their late 30s and 40s. Girls often mask their symptoms of ADHD by overcompensating with good behavior, which makes diagnosing them even more challenging. 

According to the 2021 annual research review of ADHD in women, girls are diagnosed just under half the rates of boys because their symptoms are less obvious.

Other factors also contribute to undiagnosed ADHD in women, including

  • Social issues: societal stereotypes, gender bias, and lack of research are the most common causes of undiagnosed ADHD in females. 
  • Overlooked symptoms: According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), the hyperactive symptoms of  ADHD in boys can be easily noticed due to their restlessness. In contrast, the symptoms in girls resemble those of anxiety. Healthcare providers may not ever evaluate them for ADHD, especially girls who have reached menstrual age. 
  • Late onset of ADHD: While commonly developed at a young age, some women can develop ADHD in the later stages of life.
Everyday tasks don’t have to feel overwhelming with ADHD. We understand and can provide support within minutes.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

Several steps are involved in diagnosing ADHD in women. Since there are no lab or physical tests for it, a healthcare provider will make a diagnosis based on the clinical guidelines provided by the American Psychiatric Association. They include: 

  • Five or more ongoing symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity ADHD should be present in two different settings, such as work, school, or home. 
  • History of ADHD symptoms before the age of 12
  • The duration and the degree to which these symptoms cause impairment in your everyday life
  • Your healthcare providers may also consider other co-occurring conditions that have symptoms similar to ADHD, such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. 

ADHD checklist in women

A proper diagnosis is needed by a healthcare professional to determine if you suffer from ADHD. If you suspect that you or your daughter has ADHD, you can follow our ADHD symptoms checklist for women to get an idea. 

Note that this checklist is for self-assessment purposes only and does not replace or indicate a professional diagnosis.

  • Time blindness or struggling with time management
  • Misplacing your belongings
  • Struggling to stay focused or being easily distracted
  • Hyperfocus (focusing on one particular task while ignoring other responsibilities)
  • Chronic procrastination
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Messy living and workplaces 
  • Concealing ADHD symptoms or masking behaviors
  • Having heightened sensitivity to rejection or criticism
  • Being excited to start projects but not finishing them
  • Feelings of underachievement due to symptoms of ADHD 
Take control of your life and mental health. Talk to a therapist to put the missing pieces together.

When should I see a doctor?

Everyone feels unfocused and disorganized at some point in their lives. But if you are having trouble focusing, remaining attentive, having mood swings, a quick temper, or being forgetful, impatient, and irritable, you should see a doctor. These symptoms can interfere with your everyday life and worsen if left untreated. 

FAQs about ADHD in women

What is commonly mistaken as ADHD?

ADHD is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are similar or overlap with other mental health conditions such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and mood disorders. This is a common problem which is why it is essential to perform a careful evaluation before diagnosing. 

When does ADHD peak in females?

ADHD peaks in females during times of significant hormonal shifts such as puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause. They can also experience a noticeable increase in symptoms during the week leading up to their period. 

Do I have ADHD, or am I just lazy?

People with ADHD can struggle with meeting deadlines and productivity. Their laziness is a product of their symptoms, such as inattentiveness, and it can improve with therapy and medications. Lazy people generally do not feel similar frustrations that come with missing appointments. 

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Waite, Roberta. “Women with ADHD: It is an explanation, not the excuse du jour.” Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 46.3 (2010): 182-196.
  • Holthe, Mira Elise Glaser, and Eva Langvik. “The strives, struggles, and successes of women diagnosed with ADHD as adults.” Sage Open 7.1 (2017): 2158244017701799.
  • Nussbaum, Nancy L. “ADHD and female specific concerns: a review of the literature and clinical implications.” Journal of attention disorders 16.2 (2012): 87-100.
  • Babinski, Dara E., et al. “Women with childhood ADHD: Comparisons by diagnostic group and gender.” Journal of psychopathology and behavioral assessment 33.4 (2011): 420-429.

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