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."

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low self-esteem compared to men with ADHD and women without ADHD.2 Most of this misunderstanding boils down to outdated criteria in assessing ADHD.

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.3 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 checklist of the most common ADHD symptoms in women. 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.  

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Now test your knowledge about ADHD in women in our T/F quiz below.

True or False: Women & Men Share the Same ADHD Symptoms

Answer: True

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.”

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.

True or False: ADHD in Women Tends to Go Overlooked

Answer: True

It is estimated that there are 4 million girls and women in the U.S. who have not been formally diagnosed with ADHD. 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.

True or False: Women with ADHD Typically Have More Emotional and Psychological Distress than Men with ADHD 

Answer: True

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.4 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.5

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Treatment Options 

Standard treatment for adults with ADHD typically involves medication and therapy. Becoming educated about what ADHD entails and learning new coping skills can also help individuals feel more equipped. Since things like stress, poor sleep, and an unhealthy diet seem to exacerbate symptoms, following a healthy lifestyle is paramount to feeling more balanced and at ease.

Another option for easing ADHD symptoms is Brillia, a non-prescription medication designed to reduce hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness. Free from harsh, synthetic chemicals and 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

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