ADHD in Women and Men: What are the Differences?

March 26, 2021


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental disorder characterized by disruptive and hyperactive behaviors. ADHD symptoms include difficulty sitting still, focusing, and staying organized. The disorder affects both males and females. From a young age, boys tend to be more active than girls, thus the misconception that ADHD only affects males. There are considerable differences in how ADHD manifests in males and females. These differences can affect how the condition gets diagnosed and treated. 

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ADHD Gender Bias

Studies indicate that ADHD has a greater toll on females than males. Men are more likely to receive a diagnosis than women. Nevertheless, this discrepancy doesn’t mean that females are less vulnerable to ADHD than males. Instead, it exists because ADHD symptoms tend to present themselves differently in females. 

Generally, females exhibit more subtle ADHD symptoms, thus making it difficult to diagnose the condition. Males with ADHD tend to exhibit externalized symptoms, including physical aggressiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. On the other hand, females with ADHD typically exhibit internalized symptoms such as low self-esteem and inattentiveness. They are also likely to be verbally aggressive. 

Since women with ADHD exhibit fewer and less prominent behavioral problems, their struggle with the condition often gets overlooked. Consequently, most of them end up not getting referred to specialists for evaluation and treatment. The failure to diagnose and treat ADHD early can lead to deeper problems in the future. 

Men with ADHD tend to externalize their frustrations and struggles with the condition. On their part, women turn their anger, pain, and struggles inward, which often affects their mental health in the long run. Thus, females with ADHD are at a high risk of developing eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. Besides, they are more likely to experience problems in social settings, at work, in school, and in their relationships than males with ADHD and females without the condition. 


ADHD Symptoms
ADHD Symptoms in Males


Diagnosing ADHD in Women

Unlike their male counterparts, females with ADHD often exhibit the inattentive symptoms of the disorder. It’s easier to recognize the hyperactive behaviors that males with ADHD exhibit, whereas the inattentive and passive behaviors are likely to go undetected. Thus, a female battling ADHD won’t portray disruptive behavior, but will miss out on work deadlines, be forgetful, or generally seem “spacey.” It’s easy to mistake these symptoms for a learning disability or laziness. 

Whereas females with ADHD don’t exhibit the condition’s “typical” symptoms, here are some of the symptoms they display, which are not so obvious in males with ADHD:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Being withdrawn
  • Difficulty with professional and academic achievement
  • Trouble focusing
  • Inattentiveness
  • Intellectual impairment
  • Verbal aggression, which manifests through teasing, name-calling, and taunting

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The Nexus Between ADHD in Women and Hormones

One important aspect of ADHD in women is that whenever they exhibit the tell-tale symptoms of the disorder, many people dismiss them as signs of hormonal fluctuations. Well, the truth couldn’t be any further given that at the start of puberty, monthly hormonal disruptions cause a spike in progesterone and estrogen levels. This increases cognitive functioning and the levels of neurotransmitters during menstruation. 

However, when the menstruation period ends, the hormone levels tend to drop. As a result, women experience ADHD-like symptoms alongside the typical premenstrual changes. The low estrogen levels cause irritability, mood disruption, sleep deprivation, and poor concentration. These are observable changes that lead many to conclude that a woman is experiencing premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Often, such diagnoses are made without considering that the woman could be battling ADHD. 

During menopause, ADHD symptoms tend to drop, thus intensifying ADHD symptoms. This exacerbates age-related changes such as confusion, loss of memory, sleep, and concentration. Women spend more than 30% of their lives post-menopause, which makes it necessary for them to receive an ADHD diagnosis. It’s equally essential to explore the impacts of hormonal cycles on the symptoms of ADHD. 


Estrogen Levels
Low Estrogen Levels in Females


ADHD in Women: The Cormobid Conditions 

Since fewer girls with ADHD receive a diagnosis, most of them end up struggling with at least one comorbid problem. Typically, the symptoms of the comorbid problems tend to be more prevalent than those of ADHD. As a result, women with ADHD end up receiving a misdiagnosis and treatment for the comorbid conditions rather than ADHD. Mood disorders and anxiety are two of the most comorbid conditions among women with ADHD. 

As girls grow older, their emotional and psychological distress also increases. Those with ADHD and are experiencing low self-esteem often get distracted from their self-care. Thus, they are more likely to postpone health checkups and procedures, which worsens their condition all the more. Sleep deficits, chronic stress, drug dependency, mood disorders, and inconsistent eating patterns are some of the potential outcomes for failing to diagnose ADHD in women. 

Women with ADHD often feel out of control due to their higher psychological distress, low self-esteem, chronic stress, and feelings of inadequacy. The American Psychological Association notes that adult females with ADHD often experience time management challenges, problems with money management, longstanding feelings of being overwhelmed, and chronic disorganization. This makes it difficult for them to manage their lives as they should.

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Key Takeaways

Contrary to what you may think, ADHD has a greater toll on women than men. The fact that women exhibit internalized symptoms doesn’t mean they are immune from the condition. Although the symptoms of ADHD present differently in males and females, early diagnosis and intervention are critical. If you’re battling ADHD, you need help to restore your well-being and regain control of your life. At Mango Clinic, we offer comprehensive ADHD treatment programs that are designed to restore your wellbeing. 

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