ADHD in women still not properly diagnosed: Study


The fact that diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is below average in women still baffles many researchers and medical experts. When ADHD goes undiagnosed in women, they often experience self-esteem issues, eating disorders, depression, and engage in emotionally abusive relationships.

According to a 2013 report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11 percent of school children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD. A study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2015, states that between 2003 and 2011 parents reported 55 percent increase in ADHD diagnoses for girls, compared to 40 percent for boys. However, the study suggested that in spite of the increase, many adult women suffering from the disorder were not properly diagnosed.

Gender differences in ADHD diagnosis

Hyperactivity among boys often helps in the diagnosis of ADHD before the age of seven. However, recent studies show that female symptoms are often manifested in disorganization and inattentiveness rather than hyperactivity. They frequently mask it in an attempt to conform to the society’s expectation of a girl being subtle and organized. While some ADHD symptoms can become less intense for boys after puberty, the same can be worse for girls.

Dr. Ellen Littman, a clinical psychologist and co-author of Understanding Girls with ADHD, told the Quartz in 2016 that girls continue to be misdiagnosed in spades, with alarming consequences. The outcomes of girls are horrendously alarming as compared with boys.

The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) diagnostic criteria to determine the symptoms of ADHD have been now been pushed to 12 years from seven so that more girls can be diagnosed with the disorder.

Dr. Patricia Quinn, Littman’s co-author and a pediatrician in Washington, DC, who founded the National Center for Girls and Women with ADHD, highlighted girls’ ADHD symptoms as given below:

  • An inclination towards daydreaming
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Careless while doing homework and tests and make silly mistakes

Littman adds that girls with ADHD are more likely to experience major depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Due to their low self-esteem, they often have fewer friends and choose unhealthy relationships.

ADHD is also prevalent in older women. Littman has worked with many high IQ women, many of whom have spent years masking all their symptoms, especially due to the society they live in. They are constantly in an overwhelming state of coping and adjusting with day-to-day activities. These are the people who are least likely to be acknowledged and in a quest to maintain being smart, they don’t feel they are entitled to help.

Littman also highlights some surprising numbers. She stated that there are as many female as male patients in adult clinics. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of Americans using medication to treat ADHD rose 36 percent; however, the figure rose 85 percent among women aged 26 to 34.

Many women diagnosed with ADHD in later life try to manage the condition on their own. But they never receive the proper treatment they could have, if they were diagnosed at an earlier stage.

In adolescent girls, parents and teachers often miss the signs. Due to misdiagnosis, many girls end up being treated with anti-anxiety or depression drugs, some of which aggravate the effects of ADHD.

The need of the hour is awareness and a clear diagnostic treatment at medical centers so that girls can be diagnosed with ADHD. When children diagnosed with ADHD receive proper treatment, they have the best chance of improving at home, doing well at school, and making and keeping friends.

If you or your loved one is showing signs of ADHD, seek medical help immediately. Only a proper treatment can help lead a normal life. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline can help you find the best treatment suiting your needs. Chat online or call at 855-653-8178 for assistance.

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