ADHD Symptoms in Women Checklist: How to Know if You May Have ADHD

ADHD Symptoms in Women Checklist: How to Know if You May Have ADHD

"Because the common criteria people look for when assessing ADHD tends to focus around hyperactive boys, many girls get missed."

ADHD Symptoms in Women


If you are a woman with ADHD who was diagnosed late or never diagnosed at all, you may have felt misunderstood for a large portion of your life. Maybe your teachers singled you out as a “daydreamer.” Maybe your parents asked you to stop being “lazy” when it came to those chores you simply couldn’t keep track of or your homework you left to the last minute. If you were hyperactive, you may have been called “a chatterbox” in high school one too many times, or even worse, a “hot mess.”

When people misunderstand the symptoms of ADHD and how they seem to differ between the sexes, the girls and women who struggle with this very real condition often end up feeling alone and inherently flawed. It’s no wonder that adolescent girls with ADHD are more likely to struggle with social difficulties, eating disorders, and have a poor self-concept compared to boys with ADHD and women without ADHD.1 And, as adults, women with ADHD are more likely to experience low self-esteem compared to men with ADHD and women without ADHD. Most of this misunderstanding boils down to outdated criteria in assessing ADHD.

Read on to explore symptoms of ADHD in women, how to spot early signs in girls, and how you can get help.

How Does ADHD Present in Women?

Because the common criteria people look for when assessing ADHD tends to focus around hyperactive boys who can’t sit still or stop talking, many girls get missed in their youth. ADHD most commonly presents itself in females as inattentiveness that is internalized and easy to miss. By adulthood, many women will have developed a variety of coping mechanisms to mask their ADHD, making their symptoms even harder to address. To make this easier, we’ve developed a simple ADHD in women checklist. We’ve also included some data around the under-diagnosis of women to help you understand why you may have been missed, some common masking tools you may already use to hide your symptoms, and some ways to get help if you suspect you have ADHD. 

Anxiety Checklist

What Does High-Functioning ADHD in Women Look Like?

Some women with ADHD may appear to be workaholics. At their best, they can seem extremely devoted to their work. At their worst, they’re burnt out and perpetually scattered. If any of this sounds familiar, you may have high-functioning ADHD. 

In a woman with high-functioning ADHD, her symptoms can seem mild or unobservable to others; this is largely due to compensation tactics she learned along the way. Such tactics may include setting multiple alarms for deadlines, taking highly-detailed notes to remember important factors, and keeping a detailed calendar. These tactics may hide a woman’s ADHD, but underneath the surface she is struggling significantly to maintain focus, stay on top of tasks, and be organized. High-functioning ADHD is hard to spot because of these compensation tactics, but some clues of this type of ADHD in adult women include:

  • Struggling to manage time
  • Procrastination
  • Missed appointments
  • Interrupting others
  • Leaving projects unfinished
  • Working overtime to catch up
  • Burnout and exhaustion 

Do Women & Men Share the Same ADHD Symptoms?

Research shows that men and women tend to experience the same ADHD symptoms, however the ways in which they express these symptoms differ. For instance, classic ADHD symptoms like inattentiveness, and hyperactivity may be internalized in women as overthinking, “spacing out,” or forgetting things, while the same symptoms will appear externally in men as fidgeting, aggression, or high risk behaviors. According to Julia Edwards, a licensed mental health counselor and an ADHD-certified clinical services, these differences occur because of the “structural and functional differences between the male and female brain.”2

Hormones can complicate matters even more. For girls and women with ADHD, normal monthly fluctuations of hormone levels in addition to significant hormonal changes like puberty, perimenopause and menopause can have a major impact on ADHD symptoms. Patricia Quinn, MD, a developmental pediatrician explains that ADHD symptoms usually worsen a few days before the start of the menstrual cycle. And towards the end of the cycle, she’ll likely experience a drop in mood, leading to sadness, irritability, and fatigue.3

ADHD in Women Tends to Get Overlooked

It is estimated that there are 4 million girls and women in the U.S. who have not been formally diagnosed with ADHD.4 This underdiagnosis has been happening since the 1970’s, when the first clinical studies were performed. Those studies tended to focus on hyperactive little boys whose parents took them to treatment. Their symptoms were easy to see and thus easy to diagnose, while many girls were suffering silently or would eventually suffer silently (symptoms tend to appear later in girls when the hormonal changes of puberty, namely estrogen, start to intensify them). This lack of data led to a huge lack of understanding when it came to ADHD and women.

Women with ADHD Typically Have More Emotional & Psychological Distress than Men with ADHD

Studies show that ADHD takes a greater toll on women than on men. This may be because of the late diagnosis mentioned above, leading many girls and women to hide their symptoms, overcompensate for them, or take on the false belief that there is something inherently wrong with them. Though depression is three times more prevalent in adults with ADHD compared to adults without ADHD, the numbers are even higher for women as they are more likely than men to have comorbid depression and ADHD.5 And a study conducted at Harvard Medical School in 2007 showed that girls with ADHD were almost four times more likely to have an eating disorder than those without ADHD.6

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Early Signs of ADHD in Girls

It’s not always easy to detect ADHD in girls because their symptoms tend to be internalized, but here are some early signs you might notice:

  • Distractibility and daydreaming
  • Fidgeting
  • Described as pushy, overly talkative, or too emotional
  • Procrastination
  • Trouble making and keeping friends
  • Poor time management skills
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low self-esteem and negative self-talk
  • Keeping a messy space or backpack
  • Appears withdrawn
  • Lacks motivation
  • Verbally impulsive
  • Cries easily

Getting Diagnosed for ADHD

While early detection of ADHD is ideal, it’s never too late to be diagnosed. But be cautious with telehealth sites, which are notorious for misdiagnoses and overprescribing. While an online quiz may be helpful in learning about the common symptoms of ADHD, it should not be taken as a diagnosis until you consult with a professional. 

To be diagnosed with ADHD, adults should have at least five of the ADHD symptoms outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).7 These symptoms include things like making careless mistakes at work, difficulty sustaining attention, difficulty organizing tasks, trouble sitting still, excessive talking and more. Once the healthcare professional has assessed your symptoms according to the DSM, they will gather a detailed medical history, and potentially obtain more information from family members or significant others who know you well. Different testing protocols may vary depending on who you consult. 

It’s important to note that ADHD is rarely diagnosed accurately from one brief office visit or one conversation. This is partly why online diagnosing sites are discouraged. You may also notice that your symptoms have changed over time. While you may have had difficulty thriving in school in the past, maybe overcompensating has turned you into a high-functioning adult with ADHD. Or maybe you were a hyperactive child, and now struggle with inattention as an adult. Educating yourself on what ADHD is and isn’t is imperative to ensure you get the support you deserve.

Treatment Options

Standard treatment for adults with ADHD typically involves medication and/or therapy, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing ADHD. Working with a coach to learn new coping skills can make a significant difference in helping individuals feel more equipped. And since things like stress, poor sleep, and an unhealthy diet seem to exacerbate symptoms, following a healthy lifestyle is another important approach that shouldn’t be left out of your plan.  

Another option for addressing ADHD symptoms is Brillia, a non-prescription medication clinically proven  to reduce hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Brillia offers a gentle and impactful alternative to prescription medications and can be stopped or started at any time without any adverse effects. Consisting of targeted antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, which is a key regulator of many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, Brillia stops the instigation of symptoms at their very source, leading to more calmness and clarity. The medication is so targeted that no other systems in the body are affected and there are no contraindications with other medications or supplements if you are already taking a prescription medication. And because healthy habits play a significant role in managing ADHD, Brillia is most effective when combined by such  lifestyle factors as proper nutrition, controlled screen time, adequate sleep, and mindfulness practices.

Learn more about how Brillia works and discover more resources on managing ADHD at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
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