Diagnosis Delayed: Women and ADHD

woman - worried about adhd

Diagnostic Confusion

Over the past decade, researchers and clinicians have recognized that ADHD symptoms manifest differently between the sexes. Most girls and women have the inattentive form of ADHD. This has complicated the diagnosis of ADHD for them because inattentive ADHD symptoms are often misunderstood by clinicians and misdiagnosed as mood disorders, anxiety, or some other related condition.

Updates to the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),have lagged more recent ADHD research. Thus, many girls with ADHD do not get diagnosed and treated. They may not realize they have ADHD until they are well into adulthood, having endured unnecessary suffering for many years.

The Estrogen Effect

Women with ADHD, unlike men with the condition, must deal with the complicating factor of the effects estrogen has on the ADHD symptoms.

When estrogen levels are low, you may experience increased feelings of irritability, moodiness, and depression, problems with sleep, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness and memory problems, fatigue and loss of energy, as well as hot flashes. Women with ADHD can be particularly sensitive to lower estrogen levels since ADHD is also associated with a dysfunction in the neurotransmitter systems in the brain.

And as estrogen levels change at different stages of life, the intensity of ADHD symptoms can fluctuate dramatically, In an earlier post, we provided a brief summary of some of the ways estrogen can impact ADHD symptoms and treatment from puberty through menopause.

Potential Signs of ADHD in Adult Women

Some signs of potential ADHD in women may include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed in crowded or busy environments
  • Struggling to stay organized and on top of routine things
  • Experiencing large swings in energy and activity levels
  • Difficulty coping in social situations and missing routine social cues
  • Regularly  experiencing feelings of low self-esteem
  • Unable to manage clutter and organize your household
  • Difficulty with routine money management

Next Steps

There are numerous self-assessments you can take if you believe you might have ADHD. Following that, you should schedule a visit with a clinical professional trained in diagnosing adult ADHD. If you are diagnosed, your treatment regime may involve medication, therapy and / or coaching.

For many women, getting a diagnosis can be something of relief and bring with it new hope for an improved quality of life.

Resources

  1. https://www.health.com/condition/adhd/adhd-affects-women-differently-what-to-look-for-how-to-fix-it
  2. https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-symptoms-in-women/
  3. https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02707-9
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adhd-symptoms-in-girls-and-boys#Recognizing-ADHD-in-Girls

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