ADHD in Women

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 21, 2024
8 min read

Little research explores the effects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on adult, cisgender women. Children, teens, and cis, straight men are more often the focus. Even in kids, studies show that boys more often get an accurate diagnosis than girls.

Gender bias (a tendency to focus more on men than women) can help explain these differences. So can the fact that girls and women often have different ADHD symptoms that are easily overlooked.

Most studies happen to focus a lot on hyperactive ADHD patterns that are more common in people who are assigned male at birth (AMAB). But girls tend to show less "hyperactive" behavior than boys do.

When young girls' ADHD symptoms go undiagnosed and untreated, the challenges they cause can continue into adulthood. 

ADHD in trans women and nonbinary people

There's also a need for experts to better understand how ADHD affects people across the gender spectrum. One Australian study found that people who identify as transgender are more likely to have ADHD than the general population. 


 Symptoms and signs of ADHD in adult women can include:

  • Struggling with time management
  • Disorganization
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • History of anxiety and depression
  • Issues with money management

ADHD can run in families. If you have undiagnosed ADHD, you're more likely to notice your own symptoms if your child or sibling gets a diagnosis. It's also common for women with ADHD to have other issues at the same time like compulsive overeating, chronic lack of sleep, or drinking too much alcohol.

Why is ADHD underdiagnosed in women?

Most women with ADHD don't get diagnosed until their late 30s or early 40s. There could be several reasons why it takes so long.

The symptoms are subtle. Parents, teachers, and even pediatricians often miss ADHD symptoms and behaviors in young girls because they aren't obvious. 

ADHD symptoms can look like signs of other issues.  For instance, some doctors may diagnose girls and young women with mood disorders like anxiety or depression rather than ADHD. 

ADHD in women may develop later. Some research suggests that women don't get ADHD until later in life. But scientists say they need more research to prove it.

Signs of ADHD in women vs. men

There are 3 different types of ADHD. Your symptoms depend on which type you have.

Inattentive type symptoms

Some common signs include:

  • Trouble staying focused and finishing a project
  • "Zoning out" when others speak
  • Struggling to stay organized
  • Putting off or avoiding "boring" tasks
  • Often forgetting where you put things or to do daily tasks like paying bills

Hyperactive/impulsive type symptoms

If you have one or both of these ADHD types you could have signs like:

  • Finding it hard to stay quiet
  • Interrupting others when they speak
  • Feeling restless/often needing to get up and move around
  • Struggling to wait (like in traffic or in a checkout line)

ADHD in women is often the inattentive type. Hyperactive and/or impulsive type symptoms are more common in boys and men. 

Having ADHD means that your brain doesn't work the same as many other people's brains do. Experts are still trying to pinpoint exactly what the differences are. They may have to do with your brain structure, the levels of chemicals in your brain, or both these things.  

As a result, ADHD can impact how you feel about yourself, the way you manage your emotions, and how you move through the world. For instance, you may find that it's hard to keep up with the demands of your job, stay on top of everyday tasks, or keep track of your money. You might feel like you're always trying to catch up, which can lead to chronic stress and feeling exhausted.

Women with ADHD can experience:

  • Learning differences
  • Challenges in social settings (like making new friends)
  • Relationship issues
  • Symptoms like headaches or stomachaches that are linked to mental health
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bullying
  • Self-harming (like cutting or picking at your nails, skin, or hair)
  • Eating disorders

If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, talking to a doctor or a therapist can help.

In children, more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD. But as adults, the numbers even out. That's because women are more likely to find out they have ADHD when they're adults. Between 2020 and 2022, ADHD diagnoses nearly doubled in women aged 30 to 49 years old. More women over 50 years old also found out they had ADHD.

ADHD and menopause

Changing hormone levels throughout your life can affect your ADHD symptoms. For instance, during pregnancy, you may find that they temporarily improve. That's because the surge of estrogen inside your body may be able to balance out the chemicals in your brain. 

The opposite is true when you get older and start to go through menopause. As your body starts to naturally makes less estrogen, ADHD symptoms often worsen. Doctors classify menopause as not having a period for at least a year. But perimenopause, the run-up to menopause, begins an average of 4 years before that.

During this time, try to increase your self-care. Eating well, getting enough sleep, and getting regular exercise can all have a positive effect on your hormones. Track your ADHD symptoms and share what you notice with your doctor. If you take ADHD medication, the type or dosage may need to be adjusted to help improve how you feel. 

Everyone feels unable to focus and disorganized at some point in their lives. But to be diagnosed with ADHD, your symptoms must follow the current clinical guidelines:

  • Five ongoing symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity. These must be present in at least two different settings, like work and school or work and home. They must also interfere with how well you can function.
  • A history of ADHD symptoms. These are believed to begin before the age of 12.

If you think you have ADHD,  talk to your primary care doctor. They may be able to evaluate you. Or they can refer you to a mental health specialist who diagnoses ADHD in women.

What are the different ADHD tests for women?

There's no one test that proves you have ADHD. Instead, you'll be asked a lot of questions. For instance, you'll likely be asked about:

  • Your moods
  • Your health history 
  • Your family medical history (for instance, does anyone else have ADHD?)
  • Childhood experiences
  • School memories
  • Other issues you struggle with (such as anxiety, depression, or alcohol or substance abuse)
  • Daily challenges you face

Your doctor may ask your permission to speak to others who know you well, like family members or close friends. This helps give them an better idea of how you function on a day-to-day basis.

In some cases, your doctor may do a physical exam to rule out any issues that may be causing your symptoms. And you could also be asked to take some psychological tests that can show how your brain works on different tasks like:

  • Memory
  • Reasoning
  • Executive functioning (making decisions)
  • Visual-spatial intelligence (how well you understand information you see)

Tests like these can help spot other issues, like a learning difference, that may be making it harder for you to get through your days.

While the testing process may sound like a lot to go through, many people feel that it's worth it. A 2020 study found that adults who were finally diagnosed with ADHD felt better about themselves and saw their quality of life improve.

There's no cure for ADHD, but your symptoms can be managed so they don't interfere with your daily life. Often, treatment includes both medication and therapy.

ADHD medication

Different types of drugs can directly increase or balance out certain chemicals in your brain to help you better focus. These include: 

  • Stimulants, like methylphenidate (Aptensio XR, Concerta, Ritalin, and others)
  • Amphetamines, like Adderall and Vyvanse
  • Nonstimulants. If you can't take stimulants, a drug called atomoxetine or an antidepressant could help.

Your doctor will take into account your other health conditions when choosing a medication. Make sure to let them know about any other medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbals, and supplements .

It may take some time to find a type of ADHD drug and dose that works well for you. Let your doctor know right away if you start having any side effects.

Therapy for ADHD

Besides drugs, your doctor may suggest therapy. The type they recommend may depend on both your specific ADHD symptoms and what's going on in your life. 

Therapy can also help if you live with another mental health condition like anxiety or depression.

ADHD in women can often be helped by treatments like:

Cognitive behavioral therapy. This can help you learn to accept your thoughts and feelings while swapping out negative thinking patterns for healthier ones.

Couples counseling. You and your partner can talk through some of the challenges ADHD can bring to a relationship. A therapist can help you improve your communication.

Family therapy. Together, you and your loved ones can learn to better understand each other and work through issues you have.

Parenting skills training. This type of therapy can help you better manage all the responsibilities that come with raising a child.

You could also join a support group. This can help you connect with other women with ADHD who understand what you're going through. 

If you're struggling to keep up at work or school, you may decide to talk to a career counselor or professional coach who understands ADHD. They can help you harness your strengths and better manage challenges as they come up.

ADHD used to be thought of as a "male dominant disorder." Now, as more adult women seek diagnosis and treatment for it, scientists admit they need more studies that look at gender differences in the condition.

For example, since female hormones appear to play a role in ADHD symptoms, people assigned female at birth (AFAB) may benefit from different forms of treatment than what helps boys or men. 

Ultimately, experts say more research can help them identify and treat ADHD symptoms earlier in young girls and women. That early diagnosis may be key to better managing ADHD over time. 

ADHD research in nonbinary and trans women

It's not just research into ADHD in females vs. males that's lacking. Even less is known about how ADHD affects nonbinary and trans women. More studies are needed. In the future, that could lead to gender-specific ways to diagnose and treat ADHD. 



ADHD in adult women is increasingly common. Getting a diagnosis can take some time, but can be worth it. ADHD treatment, which often includes both medication and therapy, can improve your relationships, set you up to succeed at work and school, and help you better understand yourself.

What does high-functioning ADHD look like in women?

High-functioning ADHD isn't a medical diagnosis. It's a term to describe ADHD that doesn't greatly interfere with your everyday life. You might be high-functioning because you have good coping strategies in place. Or, your ADHD symptoms could be mild or very specific so they only affect a few parts of your work or home life.

Achieving a lot at work or school often hides high-functioning ADHD.