Attentional deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals across sexes and genders. Despite the name of the disorder and the common depictions from movies or predispositions of what it looks like to have ADHD, there are a few subtypes of ADHD: a) predominantly inattentive, b) predominantly hyperactive, or c) combined type (inattentive and hyperactive). That means that you can meet criteria for the disorder without hyperactivity and impulsivity (or without inattention). While ADHD has been historically associated with higher prominence in males, recent literature sheds light on the unique challenges and manifestations of ADHD in women. This overview aims to provide a science-based perspective on ADHD in women, exploring its prevalence, underdiagnosis, and the impact it can have on different aspects of women’s lives across age.
Notably, while we will explore some of the literature of sex differences in the disorder and presentation, we will also highlight where some of these differences are not neurobiological, but further exacerbated due to societal norms and gender biases in diagnostic bias and culturally-deemed “appropriate” behavior for different genders.
Scientific studies suggest that ADHD manifests differently in men and women, leading to underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis in women. While men with ADHD often exhibit hyperactivity and externalizing behaviors, women with ADHD tend to exhibit more inattentiveness, which can be less visible, but equally disruptive to their daily lives. Check out this article on 4 ways that ADHD symptoms can differ for women.
Examining the prevalence of ADHD in men versus women is a complex topic. While research indicates higher prevalence rates of ADHD in males, sex differences in ADHD diagnosis changes across age. The largest discrepancy in ADHD prevalence occurs in childhood and shrinks to nearly equivalent levels by mid-adulthood. Check out this article on “Debunking ADHD stereotypes: it’s not just a boy thing” to explore the reasons for the changing prevalence rates for women across the lifespan.
Prevalence rates of ADHD differ across men and women, but does that mean there are biological reasons for this discrepancy? Check out this article on “is ADHD really different for men and women” to learn more about what the science tells us about biological differences and similarities, as well as the implications of these differences on treatment.
One of the most critical aspects of ADHD in women is the significant underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression, diagnosed later in life, and show a different symptom presentation of ADHD than men. Check out this article for an in-depth look at the factors contributing to the underidentification of ADHD in women, including the impact on women’s wellbeing.