ADHD symptoms in adults: How is ADHD different in men and women?

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About three to five percent of children and two percent of adults have ADHD, so it isn’t very common. The disorder is more common in males than females, and often goes undiagnosed in both sexes. One of the leading researchers in adult ADHD and a professor of psychiatry at New York University, Len Adler, M.D, believes that at least 75 percent of adults who have ADHD do not know that they have it. Here are the top symptoms of ADHD and how the condition differs in men, women, girls and boys.

Most people with ADHD are diagnosed at around six years old, but it isn’t unheard of to be diagnosed as an adult.

According to ADHD action, about 1.5 million adults in the UK have the condition but only 120,000 are formally diagnosed.

Getting diagnosed as an adult might seem pointless, but it can help you to understand why you are the way you are.

ADHD is associated with higher rates of suicide, depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and getting diagnosed with ADHD could be the key to getting treated for these conditions too.

Knowing that you have ADHD can help you to stop feeling so guilty or embarrassed about the problems you face.

ADHD isn’t just difficulty paying attention, there is a wide range of symptoms that come with the condition.

Adult symptoms of ADHD are much more subtle than childhood symptoms, so you’ll need to be more vigilant if you’re seeking a diagnosis as an adult.

ADHD symptoms in adults are more difficult to define, mainly because there’s a lack of research in this area.

However, the NHS website points out that adults can’t develop ADHD without it first appearing during childhood.

ADHD symptoms can be split into two types of behavioural problems: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Many people with ADHD have symptoms in both of these categories, but not always.

For example, around a fifth of people with ADHD have issues with concentrating and focusing but not with hyperactivity or impulsiveness, so the symptoms really do vary from person to person.

Hyperactivity tends to decrease in adults while inattentiveness tends to remain as you grow older.

The NHS website lists the following as symptoms of ADHD in adults:

  • carelessness and lack of attention to detail
  • continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
  • poor organisational skills
  • inability to focus or prioritise
  • continually losing or misplacing things
  • forgetfulness
  • restlessness and edginess
  • difficulty keeping quiet, and speaking out of turn
  • blurting out responses and often interrupting others
  • mood swings, irritability and a quick temper
  • inability to deal with stress
  • extreme impatience
  • taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety or the safety of others – for example, driving dangerously

How is ADHD different in men and women?

Women and girls are less likely to be properly diagnosed with ADHD and referred for services, even though their symptoms are exactly the same.

According to the ADHD Awareness Month organisation, women and girls with ADHD tend to have a higher incidence of depression, anxiety low self-esteem and self-harming behaviours.

Boys and men, on the other hand, are more likely to display externalising behaviours, such as hyperactivity and disruptive behaviour.

It has been suggested that fluctuating oestrogen levels in women can impact the intensity and presentation of ADHD symptoms.

It’s also likely that gendered expectations of behaviour can complicate how symptoms in women are perceived.

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