Why does ADHD go undiagnosed under-treated in women – latest findings

Women, particularly mothers, are the largest rising group of people diagnosed with ADHD.

Male ADHD overshadows female ADHD; we know that boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Nevertheless, women with ADHD do exist, and an estimated 50 percent to 75 percent of women with ADHD go misdiagnosed. 

Why would so many women with ADHD go undiagnosed?

  • One of the key causes seems to be that women and men have different types of ADHD. Male ADHD is more likely to have ‘Hyperactive ADHD,’ which is marked by an inability to sit still, a propensity for interrupting conversations, a proclivity for talking, a predisposition for having high emotional reactions, and a proclivity for engaging in risky behaviours.
  • Expectations for women may be different than for men, so parents and teachers do not have to worry if a woman is somewhat disorganized, chaotic, or “in her own world.” However, as women age and are expected to be more organized, perhaps reconciling work and family, things may become more difficult for women. How many of us know someone who says, “I always forget things” or “Let others do it, I’m not good at making decisions”?
  • Inattentive ADHD, also known as ADD, is more prevalent in females; the symptoms are less obvious because the person may appear to be paying attention, but their mind is elsewhere. This type of ADHD is marked by disorganisation, daydreaming, difficulty making decisions, withdrawing, and taking longer to process information. 
  • It can be hard to diagnose due to the high levels of emotional sensitivity which are often associated with women. There is also a tendency for women to avoid conflict, which can make it harder to pinpoint potential ADHD symptoms by simply talking about them. It’s also hard because there are limited numbers of female doctors that are educated in how ADHD presents in females.

The majority of ADHD research was conducted in the 1970s and focused on young, Caucasian guys who were hyperactive.

Hormones and ADHD

Hormones play an important role in ADHD. During the menopause, there is a reduction in dopamine and serotonin. This causes problems concentrating and staying focused. Women who are going through the Menopause may experience these symptoms more than usual.

Female ADHD presents differently than male ADHD, therefore fewer women may get identified because people aren’t seeking for the symptoms that women with ADHD typically experience.

Although there may be girls in your children’s class with “Inattentive ADHD”, their behaviour may be ‘under the radar’ therefore it is not disruptive enough to warrant intervention from the outside. 

Who are the most likely to be diagnosed with ADHD?

One in five adults has ADHD, but women are much less likely to be diagnosed. Men are more easily diagnosed with the disorder because they exhibit the classic symptoms that are used to diagnose it. Girls are often struggling with other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression instead of ADHD. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. 

Fewer girls are diagnosed with it because they tend to focus more on their education, while boys are more likely to have attention problems that interfere with schoolwork. Women are at risk of being misdiagnosed with depression or anxiety.

Why is ADHD in women so often not treated?

It takes time and effort to diagnose ADHD in women, as they often exhibit different symptoms than men. Females are often more disciplined and patient by nature than their male counterparts, so they might need external factors such as a traumatic event or street violence to provoke them enough for diagnosis.

What are the signs of ADHD you should be looking for in yourself or your loved ones?

Women with ADHD experience a ton of difficulty trying to hide their symptoms from friends and co-workers. One of the main signs of a woman with ADHD is a history of chronic depression or anxiety due to how difficult it is for them to concentrate on tasks, succeed at work, and find stable relationships. It’s very common for these women to be misdiagnosed with conditions such as an eating disorder or bipolar disorder as opposed to ADHD. If you think that you have ADHD as opposed to any other condition, then you should seek professional help right away.

Conclusion

Women attempting to get an ADHD diagnosis often feel like they’re “trying to pass the test of a diagnostic process that is not gender sensitive,” according to Alan Brown, PhD. There are more than 11 million females with ADHD and while about one male with ADHD exists for every female, we know less about how ADHD manifests in women and girls than we do in boys and men.

Lindsay has over 8 years of experience in the business and finance industry. She is a MBA and a journalist by education and did her internship at a major local newspaper in Texas slowly climbing the ladder to reach the higher echelons as editor of various online news portals before joining Business Magazine.

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