ADHD Symptoms Worse in Women, New Study Shows
In the majority of cases when women contact me to discuss and get support after receiving an ADHD diagnosis, more often than not, they explain that the diagnosis process was a difficult one. In fact, more than likely, they were initially given the diagnosis of depression instead of ADHD.
Then, after months of treatment for the “depression”, when the symptoms don’t abate and they become frustrated, women often become even more depressed and discouraged. If they’re lucky, they’ve read a bit about ADHD and find another clinician more familiar with how ADHD affects adults and lo and behold, the proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment are given. Typically, their lives changes quite dramatically as they learn that their lifelong struggles weren’t character weaknesses, laziness or immaturity. What they’d been living with all along… is ADHD. And is it any surprise that the many years of untreated ADHD actually did cause some depression? Yet, even if the depression was treated, the ADHD doesn’t disappear; thus, the frustrating and often devastating symptoms continue to wreak havoc on their lives.
A new study out of the University of Utah, led by Dr. Frederick W. Reimherr, reveals that women with ADHD are more impacted by ADHD symptoms than men with ADHD. The team found that women with ADHD have higher levels of emotional and cognitive symptoms.
The researchers, who analyzed data from two clinical trials of Strattera (atomoxetine), a non-stimulant medication used to treat ADHD, revealed that though boys with ADHD tend to be more impulsive and troubled than girls with ADHD, in adulthood, the tables changed.
The study included 515 adults with ADHD; 1/3 of whom were women. 75% of the women had the combined subtype compared to 62% of the men. The women reported more sleep problems, anxiety and depression.
In addition, 37% of the women reported mood volatility, emotional over-reactivity and poor temper control, whereas only 29% of the men reported the same.
The investigators concluded that “women were more impaired than men on ADHD scales in our study.” Dr. Reimherr added that these stressors (depression, tension, over-reactivity, temper control) might cause a misdiagnosis of women seeking treatment for these symptoms, thus creating significant problems in receiving the proper treatment.
This study is encouraging because it reflects what my colleagues and I report clinically- women with ADHD struggle with severe symptoms that can impair their lives; their problems simply- and sadly- are not taken seriously enough.
It’s important for clinicians to look beyond the clear symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc. to see if there is a possible underlying ADHD. Since the majority of children and adults have co-morbidities- over 50% of the time, in fact- it is imperative that such individuals coming for treatment be at the very least, screened for underlying ADHD. Since symptoms overlap, ie distractibility, procrastination, emotional lability, etc., one should ask the clinician if these symptoms could, indeed, include a missed ADHD.
In addition, if one is diagnosed with one of the above conditions and is not improving with treatment, it may be time to go for an ADHD evaluation. Just to make sure.
If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression (or other related disorder) and you aren’t finding symptom relief, request an evaluation for ADHD with a well experienced clinician who has diagnosed and treated many adults with ADHD.
If you cannot get a solid referral from your physician, contact your closest teaching hospital to see if they have names. If not, check out the online directories at sites such as ADDA (https://www.add.org/), CHADD (https://www.chadd.org/) and ADD Consults (https://www.addconsults.com/). Additionally, you can call CHADD at 800-233-4050 and find the chapter closest to where you live. The CHADD coordinator should be able to give you names of local clinicians who specialize in ADHD.
Terry wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for ADHD.