According to the prestigious Mayo Clinic, it is estimated that 7.5 percent of school-aged children have Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The great majority of these children grow up to be adults with ADHD. This means there are between 4.5 and 5.5 million women in the United States alone with ADHD.
If one thinks of the core symptoms of ADHD (distractibility, impulsivity and hyperactivity), it is no wonder that women struggle with seemingly simple tasks such as picking out their clothes, keeping their home in order, handling paperwork at the jobs, maintaining healthy relationships, etc? And, we often forget that many ADHD symptoms aren’t usually described in clinical journals and books, but have been observed in countless women.
Not everyone with ADHD shows the same symptoms. Some people are hyperactive. Others are sluggish. Some love having a lot of commotion and stimulation in their lives. Others need to retreat to a quiet place to re-charge.
Some symptoms of ADHD but not commonly described in articles about ADHD include:
- Hypersensitivity to noise, touch, and smell
- Low feeling of self-worth
- Easily overwhelmed
- Hypersensitive to criticism
- Poor sense of time – often runs late
- Starts projects but can’t seem to finish them
- Takes on too much
- Difficulty remembering names
- Says things without thinking, often hurting others’ feelings
- Appears self-absorbed
- Poor math and/or writing skills
- Doesn’t seem to hear what others are saying
- Addictive behaviors: shopping, eating
- Problems with word retrieval
- Poor handwriting
- Difficulty with boring, repetitive tasks
- Thinks things over and over
- Difficulty making decisions
- Clumsy, poor coordination
- Tires easily or conversely, can’t sit still
- Has problems falling asleep and difficulty waking up the next morning
For some women, just holding their own in a conversation can be a real challenge. Others avoid social gatherings because they miss social cues. This makes them feel out of step and they shut down to avoid embarrassing themselves.
Many women feel unable to entertain at home because the piles of clothes, papers and assorted knick-knacks keep them away from inviting people over.
Relationships, work situations, and parenting can all become huge challenges for women living with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD. The result of living for years with these difficulties often produces depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and other difficulties.
Much of the treatment used for ADHD in children is often the treatment of choice for adults too. Studies have shown that a combination of counseling, psycho education (learning more about ADHD and how it impacts one’s life), coaching, support groups and medication (if recommended by a physician), is the most successful treatment approach for women.
The most common medications used are the stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine, and Concerta are currently the most popular) and a newer non-stimulant medication, Strattera.
However, many women because of their life-long struggle with ADHD may find themselves anxious, depressed or both. Approximately 50 percent of ADHD adults experience a co-morbidity, which then needs to be addressed by adding perhaps an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication to their regime.
Research is beginning to show that ADHD women have special issues throughout their life that can extra difficulties in living with this disorder. As hormonal changes shift, so do their ADHD symptoms.
On the one hand, some girls may find that their hyperactivity improves during puberty, yet they may experience an increase in mood instability before and during their menstrual cycles.
Peri-menopause and menopause can create it’s own set of problems. Women often report an increase in ADHD symptoms, particularly memory loss and difficulty with word retrieval. Some notice an increase in depressive symptoms. It’s important for women to work closely with their physicians during these times, so that changes in medications can be discussed. Often, hormonal treatment can alleviate these aggravated symptoms.
Whether you are a teenager, or a post-menopausal woman, it’s important to regularly check your “ADHD temperature” and discuss any changes in your symptoms with your health care provider.