ADHD Affects Women Differently: What to Look For and How to Fix It

adult-distraction

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Your desk is a mess, and you can forget about completing your to-do list—you don’t even have one. Your mind darts from one thought to the next. And that handbag you’ve been madly searching for on your way out the door? Yes, it’s already on your shoulder.

Episodes of forgetfulness and distraction happen to all of us, and for most that’s all they are—episodes. But nearly 5 million American women have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, a neuro­behavioral condition marked by poor memory, the inability to concentrate on important tasks, and a tendency to fidget and daydream, among other symptoms. For them, this kind of distraction isn’t temporary at all and can actually be crippling.

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When adult ADHD (or ADD—the H is sometimes omitted because hyperactivity often isn’t a symptom, especially in adults) goes untreated for years, women may end up plagued by anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

“They may feel as though they’re constantly being judged—as flighty, inept, late, disorganized, scattered,” says Tracy Latz, MD, a psychiatrist and associate clinical professor at Wake Forest University Medical Center. And even if women seek help, the condition may go overlooked or be misdiagnosed.

Because women are less likely than men to be classically hyperactive, their symptoms can be more subtle and easily missed. For instance, a woman with ADHD may come off as chatty, peppy, or extroverted, or even as a dreamy, artistic soul. In reality, she may feel deeply frustrated by seemingly simple tasks, from picking out clothes to grocery shopping to keeping files organized at work. And her condition may lead to fights with her spouse or difficulty on the job.

Hormonal changes can exacerbate the effects of ADHD too. When a woman enters perimenopause, she may be even more likely to forget names or key bits of information.

The good news? When women do receive a diagnosis of ADHD or ADD, many feel relieved to have discovered the answer to a frustrating question: “Why am I like this?” What’s more, treatment usually brings greater productivity, better organization, and a newfound sense of control. Here, meet three women who have found their focus—and learn how to get the help you need if you suspect you have ADHD.


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