ADHD in Adult Women: Symptoms & Differences

Instructor: Victoria Leo

Victoria teaches college, authors books, has a therapy practice and masters degrees in anthropology and psychology.

Adult Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a brain-development genetic condition that begins in childhood, includes poor concentration, distraction, and impulsivity. Solutions for adult women include medications and learning new ways to organize tasks and activities.

Understanding ADHD

Adult Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain-development problem, derived from genetics. It starts to become evident when children enter school and need to sit quietly, pay attention, concentrate, and avoid distraction and impulsivity. Many parents and teachers think that their children will 'grow out' of ADHD as they mature. For more than 60% of ADHD kids, the problems persist into adulthood, and only 20% of adult ADHD sufferers get diagnosis or treatment.

It's important to note that 75% of the children diagnosed with ADHD are boys. Most girls are not diagnosed until they reach college or professional trade school, with its increased demands for concentrated study and delayed gratification. In high school, a girl's inability to focus and tendency for impulsiveness and risk-taking can be confused with ordinary teenage behavior. Many researchers believe this is a cultural, rather than a biological, difference: hyperactive boys are more disruptive in school than distracted or inattentive girls, so they are more likely to gain attention and get treatment.

The cultural differences continue in adulthood, with ADHD women exhibiting obesity, eating disorders and trouble handling household responsibilities rather than difficulties at work, along with less of the common male coping mechanisms of anger and substance abuse. Since women are culturally expected to perform and excel at time management - the organized employee at work and the family's planner and scheduler at home - ADHD women benefit even more from behavioral coaching than men. They also benefit from negotiating a different family role, with partners and older children taking more responsibility for organization of paperwork and physical objects, time management, scheduling, and activity planning.

Diagnosis

Many sufferers are not diagnosed as children and spend their adult years believing that they are simply unmotivated or unintelligent. One of the reasons for the low levels of diagnosis of ADHD in adult women is that, traditionally, a correct diagnosis required tests performed by a psychiatrist, a medical doctor with a specialty in brain diseases. However, a recent study has shown that a popular self-diagnosis questionnaire, available through the American Psychological Association (APA), reaches diagnoses as accurately as the questionnaire used by psychiatrists. Since most people talk to their primary care physician (PCP) once a year, a questionnaire usable by PCPs is expected to help more sufferers be diagnosed and then treated.

Before developing a treatment plan, your primary care physician or psychiatrist will want to thoroughly understand your individual ADHD situation. They will start with a thorough medical history to consider other conditions that could be mimicking ADHD symptoms and look at your childhood experiences in school. Because ADHD is a genetic disease, your doctor will also ask you to interview family members who have ADHD symptoms, including those who may not have been diagnosed.

Once you have been properly diagnosed, the next task is treatment.

Pharmaceutical Treatments

The two most effective treatments for adult ADHD for both sexes are stimulant and non-stimulant medications, usually under the care of a psychiatrist, and behavioral training. Medications reduce symptoms in most sufferers, although adults with another anxiety disorder might get more anxious with some ADHD medications, so experts suggest that you try various combinations until you obtain relief.

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