Posted By Annie Pill

Oct 16, 2022

5 ADHD symptoms in adult women

5 ADHD Symptoms in Adult Women

Signs and symptoms can be overlooked, but if you're a woman with ADHD, you're in great company.

ADHD symptoms in adult women tend to be overlooked and misunderstood. Why? A common misconception about ADHD is that it affects only children. When adults think about ADHD, they often picture a young boy who is bouncing off the walls, unable to sit still or focus.

This image doesn’t reflect the reality of how ADHD manifests in many women. The reality is that ADHD can persist well into adulthood, particularly if left untreated. It also affects adult women in different ways than it does men.

Because of ADHD's unique presentation in women, it often goes unrecognized and untreated. This can lead to significant challenges in all areas of life, from personal relationships to work and school performance. Coupled with the mistaken belief that ADHD is a childhood disorder, this can result in many women struggling with the condition for years without getting the help they need.

In this article, we'll explore why adult women with ADHD often go undiagnosed, what symptoms to look out for, and how to get help.

Why Are ADHD Symptoms in Adult Women Often Overlooked?

As a spectrum condition, ADHD symptoms can vary depending on the individual, making it difficult to diagnose. ADHD was traditionally viewed as a childhood condition, which further contributed to a lack of understanding about how it can affect adults. And though psychologists today recognize ADHD as a disorder that also affects adults, adult women still have to face unique challenges to get proper diagnosis and treatment.

There are several reasons why.

Boys and girls with ADHD often have different presentations

ADHD presents itself in three ways: inattentive/distractible, hyperactive/impulsive, and a combination of both.

Boys with ADHD tend to present as hyperactive/impulsive, which is the most visible (and thus, the most researched and diagnosed) type. For instance, a child who is fidgety, disruptive, and constantly on the go is more likely to be recommended for evaluation than a child who daydreams in class.

On the other hand, girls with ADHD are more likely to present as inattentive/distractible. They may have a hard time focusing, be easily sidetracked, and be disorganized. They may also daydream more, be withdrawn, or seem “spacey.” If a parent or teacher notices these symptoms, they may attribute them to the child's personality or maturity level rather than to a possible disorder.

For instance, a girl with ADHD may be described by classmates and teachers as “scatterbrained” or “not all there.” She may be told she needs to try harder or pay more attention. Or she may be diagnosed with another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression.

This is not to say that all girls with ADHD will present in this way, or that all boys with ADHD will present as hyperactive/impulsive. But research shows that this tends to be the most common presentation for each gender. This matters because the way ADHD manifests itself can affect how likely a person is to be diagnosed.

Hormonal effects

Diagnosis of ADHD among girls and women may also be complicated by the unique ways ADHD can induce hormonal effects not present in men, such as heavier and more painful periods, PMS, and anxiety. In some cases, these effects may be mistaken for other disorders or chalked up to the "normal" ebb and flow of a woman's hormones.

Gender bias

Many believe that ADHD affects more men than women. This is true but doesn't paint the full picture. Statistics compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health revealed that 3.2% of adult women have ADHD, much lower than the 5.4% rate for men. However, recent studies have shown that the disparity may be due, in part, to a gender bias in the way ADHD is diagnosed.

Girls with ADHD may also develop better coping mechanisms and perform better academically than boys, resulting in a "low index of clinical suspicion". This means that even when girls present with ADHD symptoms, they are less likely to be diagnosed because doctors and mental health professionals may not think to look for the disorder.

Societal pressure

Lastly, the societal roles women are expected to play can contribute to a lack of understanding about how ADHD affects them. Women are generally seen as the caretakers and nurturers in society, so when they have trouble with organization or multitasking, it may be attributed to other causes such as stress or fatigue.

Despite the voluminous research on ADHD, many clinicians do not receive adequate training on how to identify and treat the disorder specifically for adult women. This creates a vicious cycle in which girls and women are less likely to be diagnosed because of a lack of understanding, which then contributes to even less research on the topic.

5 ADHD Symptoms in Adult Women


If you're a woman who's always on the go, you may be used to being called "high-strung" or "a bit much." But what if your constant state of productivity isn't just a personality trait? If so, then it might be a symptom of ADHD. 

How can you know? The DSM-5 lists these nine symptoms for inattentive/distractible ADHD, the most common ADHD presentation for women:

  • You have trouble with details and make careless mistakes
  • You have trouble sustaining attention during tasks or conversations a.k.a "spacing out"
  • You appear not to listen when spoken directly to
  • You struggle to follow instructions and complete tasks
  • You have difficulty with organization
  • You avoid or procrastinate on tasks that require sustained mental effort
  • You lose things like homework, books, keys, etc.
  • You are easily distracted
  • You are forgetful

Because ADHD can present differently in women, these symptoms may be experienced differently. Let's dive deeper and look at five ADHD symptoms in adult women that you might not realize are signs of the condition. Note that some of these symptoms may be visible only in specific contexts or times.

You're super organized or completely disorganized

One of the most common symptoms of ADHD is disorganization. However, some women with ADHD find that they become excessively organized to compensate. If you're constantly making to-do lists and color-coding your schedule one week then can't find your keys the next, you may be dealing with ADHD.

You can be the life of the party...sometimes

ADHD can make it difficult to regulate emotions, which can lead to extreme behavior in some cases. For example, you may be the life of the party when you're in the mood, but you may also avoid social situations altogether when you're feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

This can be especially difficult for women, who are often expected to be social and outgoing. For adult women with ADHD who can't stop daydreaming when someone else is talking, small talk can feel like a Herculean task一the tension between what they feel they "must" do and what they actually want to do can be a daunting challenge.

If you find yourself withdrawing from friends and family to avoid social situations, it may be time to seek help.

You're a perfectionist...or your work is always messy

If you're the type of person who always needs to have everything just so, you may be suffering from OCD-like symptoms that, in reality, are caused by ADHD. For women with ADHD, the need for perfection can be all-consuming, leading to intense feelings of anxiety and stress.

When you can't fulfill your high standards, you may beat yourself up emotionally or try to compensate by working even harder. But this can backfire, exhausting you and leading to even more mistakes.

For instance, girls with ADHD can fly under the radar at school because they make up for their ADHD symptoms by getting good grades or focusing intensely on a favorite activity. But this perfectionism can lead to problems later in life when the stakes are higher and it's not possible to compensate in the same way.

You're always on the go...or you can't get moving

Hyperactivity is one of the most well-known symptoms of ADHD. Hyperactivity doesn't always look the same as it does for men, who generally have more "externalizing" symptoms that others can easily perceive, such as running around or shouting.

For women, hyperactivity may manifest as inner restlessness and a constant need to be moving—even when sitting still. You may feel the urge to get up and pace when you're on the phone or have trouble sitting through a movie without getting up to do something else. This inner restlessness can make it difficult to focus on tasks or conversations, leading you to feel scattered and overwhelmed.

Daily life often feels like a slog

If you feel like you're constantly fighting to keep your head above water, you may be experiencing what's known as "disordered executive function." These are difficulties with planning, organization, and time management that can make it difficult to get things done一even simple tasks.

For women with ADHD, executive function problems can make it difficult to keep track of time, remember important details, and stick to a schedule. This can lead to problems at work, where deadlines and meetings can feel impossible to keep track of, or at home, where it may be hard to keep on top of housework or child-rearing.

These problems manifest in several ways, such as:

  • Spending too much money - For adult women with undiagnosed ADHD, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of a sale or the thrill of a splurge. Overspending can be a symptom of impulsivity, but it can also be a way to cope with the low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy that often accompany ADHD.
  • Small decisions can feel monumental - Simple decisions like what to wear or what to make for dinner can become agonizingly difficult. The extra time you take doesn’t even result in better decisions per se. And even if you feel you made the right choice, you often feel like berating yourself for taking so long to make a "simple" choice.
  • Clutter around your home, workspace, car, or bag - For adult women with ADHD, paper clutter and "stuff" are permanent fixtures in their lives. A simple task like paying a bill can become a nightmare of lost pieces of paper and mounting piles of paperwork.
  • Relaxing is hard - Adult women with ADHD may find it difficult to relax and let down their guard. This can manifest as difficulty falling asleep, feeling wound up all the time, or being easily startled. You may react emotionally to things that wouldn't bother most people, or you may have a hard time letting go of things that are out of your control.
  • Difficulty making friends - ADHD can make it hard to socialize with your peers. This may be due to impulsivity, which can lead you to say or do things without thinking about how they might affect your relationships一or even just the fear of saying something wrong. ADHD may also make it hard to keep up with the give-and-take of conversation, or to remember details about people's lives. As a result, you may come across as disinterested or distracted, which can make it difficult to form close friendships.

Comorbid Conditions Among Adult Women with ADHD

ADHD generally co-occurs with other psychiatric conditions. When someone has two or more conditions, they are said to have comorbidity.

Women with ADHD can have several comorbid conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Conduct Disorder (CD)
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Sleep disorders

Co-morbid conditions can mask ADHD symptoms or make them worse. They can also complicate the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

How Marker Learning Can Help

If you suspect that you may have adult ADHD, priority number one is to receive a professional diagnosis. Despite the complexity of diagnosing ADHD among adult women, medical professionals can help cut through all the noise and get you an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.

At Marker Learning, we understand the challenges of receiving an accurate ADHD diagnosis all too well: they take too long and are too expensive. 

Marker Learning is the affordable, accessible evaluation and support solution for anyone who wants to learn more about their learning disabilities. We provide comprehensive testing and expert guidance from a team of licensed psychologists, all from the comfort of your own home. At just 1/4 the price of a standard in-person evaluation, we can guarantee a full diagnosis and action plan in two weeks一no exceptions!

Give us a call at 1-88-291-3587 or send us an email to learn everything you need to know about your ADHD and how to overcome it!

Posted By Annie Pill Oct 16, 2022