Estimates show that only 20% of adults with ADHD are diagnosed, and there is reason to believe that number is even lower for women. Understanding ADHD and how common symptoms of ADD and ADHD in women affect day-to-day life can open the door to solutions to problems that might be considered unsolvable.
What Are ADD And ADHD?
In 1996, doctors started using the term ADHD for all attention disorders. While there used to be a distinction between the two, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are now categorized under the umbrella of ADHD. Depending on symptoms, people diagnosed with ADHD might fall into the following types: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or ADHD combined type.
What Causes ADD And ADHD?
Studies are exploring whether adult ADHD is an extension of undiagnosed ADHD in childhood or if it’s caused by something later in life. Making the matter more complex, researchers haven’t found one specific cause for ADHD, no matter the patient's age.
However, studies point to several conditions that could cause typical symptoms of ADD and ADHD in women, men, and children, including
- Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy
- Insufficient prenatal nutrition
- Cohort mental health conditions (such as anxiety or depression)
- Brain injury
- Insufficient early-life nutrition
While some cases of adult ADHD extend from undiagnosed childhood ADHD, developing it later in life is possible. Adult-onset ADHD could be
- Toxin exposure
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- A brain injury
- A later diagnosis
Additionally, an emerging take by addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté considers whether ADHD is rooted in trauma.
How Is ADHD Different In Women?
While common symptoms of ADD and ADHD in women present the same in men, it’s believed that ADHD is significantly underdiagnosed. One of the hallmark traits of ADHD is being completely overwhelmed, which dovetails into women often stepping into the caretaker role. With today’s career, family, household, social, and lifestyle demands, it’s understandable why common ADHD symptoms would be conflated with overwhelm.
Regarding women’s ADHD, it’s important to note the gender-specific presentation and common symptoms. Today’s demands, coupled with women wearing more hats than ever, often contribute nuanced variations of ADHD that look different than ADHD in men. It’s important to note every person is different, and the following examples are generalizations.
Women with ADHD might ruminate more on whether they’re good enough friends, wives, mothers, and employees. They often feel incapable of achieving simple tasks like baking cookies for a classroom event or arriving on time. This might come off as uncaring in others’ eyes, which opens the door to a negative feedback loop.2
Women with ADHD may be perceived as talkative and outgoing, but internally they’re overwhelmed by social situations. Unless the topic of conversation is a point of interest, their mind may wander.
Why Is ADHD In Women Underdiagnosed?
There are three types of ADHD:
- Hyper-impulsive and Hyperactive
In general, when people think of ADHD, they think of the hyperactive type, which presents as high-energy and impulsive behaviors. However, women with ADHD most commonly have Inattentive ADHD, which presents as spacey or forgetful.
However, many women with ADHD have the inattentive type, whose symptoms are often mistaken for character traits. Inattentive ADHD is marked by “spaced-out” energy that can make the patient seem disinterested or “off in their own world.” Instead of their outer world looking chaotic and high-energy, their mind could be racing in a million different directions.
Because most people wouldn’t think to pathologize what they consider to be character traits, inattentive ADHD is likely underdiagnosed. A diagnosis isn’t essential, especially if the symptoms aren’t interfering with life. However, for some, a diagnosis provides a framework to improve certain aspects of their lives, gain control, and achieve goals that have previously felt out of touch.
Common Symptoms Of ADHD (And ADD) In Women
Because women can have inattentive, hyperactive, or a combination type of ADHD, it’s vital to note that symptoms vary from one person to the next.
- Forgetting appointments
- Consistently late for meetings
- Inappropriate spending habits
- Disorganized home and workspaces
- Inability to complete “simple” day-to-day tasks
- General forgetfulness
- Inability to concentrate
- Long tangents when talking
- Short attention span
- Little thought/social filter
Support For Women With ADHD
If you recognize some common symptoms of ADD and ADHD in women and are curious about available resources, speak with a trusted doctor or physician. They can guide you to help and give steps to better understand ADHD - and yourself.