Signs and Symptoms
Forget your keys again? Was it your turn to pick the kids up? Did you find yourself spacing out while the boss was talking to you and you’re way behind on that project? You are not alone . . .
More than 4 million American women have ADHD and don’t know it, says Patricia Quinn, M.D., a developmental pediatrician and co-founder and director of the National Center for Girls and Women with ADHD in Washington D.C.
So why are people in the dark about ADHD in women, a brain disorder that can make them more distractible, inattentive or impulsive?
“Women are very good at compensating, coping, staying up late and working very hard. They really suffer silently,” says Dr. Quinn.
In fact, most women don’t find out they have ADHD until 38, about the same time their children are diagnosed. “They usually get diagnosed when the [stresses in their lives] outweigh their ability to compensate,” Dr. Quinn adds. There’s good news, though: It’s controllable through a combination of behavioral therapies and medication, she says.
How do you know you have ADHD?
Many times it is normal to forget your keys but when you never can find your keys, that’s the problem, says Quinn.
How else do you know if you have ADHD?
The basic adult ADHD symptoms are the same for men and women: inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity. You have to have them for at least six months.
They’re usually pervasive and affect you throughout the day. We also look for family history.
Does ADHD in women show up the same way it does in men?
Women and girls with ADHD are more likely to internalize symptoms and become anxious. Symptoms most often reported by women are dysphoria [unhappiness], inattention, organization problems and impulsive behaviors.
By contrast, men report more problems with conduct, learning and attention, greater stress intolerance and poor social skills.
The hyperactivity component in women may be very different from that in boys and men.
For men, it tends to be external motor activity; for girls, it’s more fidgeting and twirling their hair. With females, [you see more] hyper-talkativeness. They’re out of control emotionally.
Why does ADHD in women manifest different symptoms?
Women have fluctuating estrogen levels. As they head into menopause in their early 40s, we see estrogen levels start to go down. This affects neurotransmitters [chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells and other cells] in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
Lower estrogen [means] lower dopamine, [which affects reasoning and concentration], making ADHD symptoms worse. If you lower serotonin, you’re going to get depressed and if you raise noradrenaline levels, you’re going to get very agitated.
This is often why a woman will seek help for ADHD for the first time in her late 30s, 40s and early 50s.
What’s ADHD often misdiagnosed as?
People think you’re not very smart. When I diagnose women with ADHD, they often say, “Oh, that’s it – I’m not stupid.” A lot of women get labeled incorrectly as depressed, she continues.
Are women with ADHD more likely to have depression or anxiety?
Women with ADHD are five times more likely to be depressed. People see the depression and treat it, but they don’t get any better.
A lot of women diagnosed with depression really have ADHD. If we diagnose and treat the ADHD, the anxiety and depression go away in about 60% of the cases.
Is it possible to treat ADHD with only behavior modification?
It depends on the person’s problems. In some studies, behavior management has worked very well.
But a lot of parents have ADHD and it’s very hard for them to effectively conduct a behavioral program for their kids.
Medications improve ADHD’s core symptoms – inattention, distractibility, impulsivity and hyperactivity – but they don’t teach you new skills.1
So while you’re able to pay attention long enough to clean your room, you still may not know how to clean your room and get organized. I still may need to teach you those organizational skills. Play Attention was developed to deal with these kinds of difficulties in the executive functioning areas of the brain through the development of cognitive skill sets. To learn more, peruse our website and check out our cognitive games: http://www.playattention.com/play-attention-cognitive-games/. You may learn more about Play Attention at one of our upcoming Speed Webinars: http://www.playattention.com/speed-webinar/
It is important to know that symptoms of ADHD can present very, very differently from person to person, even from woman to woman and across a woman’s lifespan. Understanding this can help. If you are concerned that you may have ADHD, talk with your doctor – even better if you can find a doctor who is experienced in assessing and treating ADHD in women and is knowledgeable about the way hormonal fluctuations and estrogen can affect symptoms.2