As a woman with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I am part of the 4.2 per cent of women who will get diagnosed throughout their lifetime. Despite the average age of diagnosis being seven, I was not diagnosed until I was 19, after one of my friends pushed me to see a doctor.
Men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than women. Girls are underdiagnosed because they try harder to hide their symptoms. They can do this by spending more time studying or asking for help from their guardians and teachers.
Fred Reimherr M.D. says that “ADHD is still presumed to be a male disorder” as there is more research solicited towards ADHD in males than in females. It is common for women to not receive a diagnosis until she sees her child exhibit the same symptoms around ages three to six.
Because ADHD is seen as a boy’s disorder, teachers, who are typically the first to see signs of ADHD in children, overlook girls that exhibit the same symptoms as their male classmates.
Two of the side effects of untreated ADHD are anxiety and depression, which are common diagnoses for women before finding out they have ADHD. For women who do receive an accurate ADHD diagnosis, they often face the challenge of finding a professional who provides appropriate treatment.
In my personal post-diagnosis experience, I switched from my university doctor to my family doctor since my medication would wear off in the middle of the day. I was exhausted by 2 p.m. It turned out that my previous doctor had prescribed me 18mg of Concerta as a long-term prescription. This dosage is typical when starting to treat ADHD, but you’re supposed to increase it weekly, which I only learned after speaking with my new doctor. Apparently, I was on the same consistent dosage level as a five-year-old boy, and that’s why I was experiencing these side effects.
ADHD medication can be broken into two categories: stimulants and the non-stimulants. Stimulant drugs for ADHD treatment include various amphetamines and methylphenidates, while non-stimulant drugs increase levels of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a naturally occurring chemical in the body that doubles as a stress hormone and neurotransmitter—a substance that sends signals between nerve cells. The brain secretes norepinephrine in response to stress.
Some short-term side effects of ADHD medication include loss of appetite and sleeplessness. While long-term side effects in women have not been thoroughly studied, some common ones include seizures, irregular heartbeat, and addiction.
ADHD vs ADD – What’s the difference?
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and ADHD are considered subtypes of the same condition but ADD lacks the symptoms of hyperactivity. It is usually referred to as inattentive ADHD.
Some symptoms of inattentive ADHD include forgetfulness, distraction, lack of attention to detail, and careless mistakes. Hyperactivity symptoms include constant fidgeting or squirming, excessive talking, interrupting, struggling with impulse control, and difficulty sitting for long periods of time.
This is important to note as it was more common for girls to be diagnosed with ADD, while the term was still relevant, as the inattentive-type symptoms are more common for girls. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me told me I had ADD while my doctor explained to me that the term ADD is a now out-of-date term, but it is still commonly used to refer to inattentive-type ADHD.
In the United States, ADHD diagnoses increased by 11 per cent in 2011. That’s an increase of 42 per cent between 2003 and 2011.
OSAP recognizes ADHD so if you do have ADHD, or think you do, you may be eligible for the Bursary for Students with Disabilities to help pay for an ADHD assessment or ADHD coaching.
The impact of a later diagnosis
Going undiagnosed could lead to developing mental health risks later in life, like depression. According to Medical News Today, “It could also result in [individuals with ADHD] having issues forming and maintaining relationships and succeeding in education.”
Undiagnosed ADHD in adults typically presents as finding organisation challenging, difficulty holding a job, struggling to manage time, restlessness, and problems completing tasks.
When I was diagnosed, everything made sense. I had a hard time maintaining friendships throughout childhood and could never understand why. Recently, I’ve had more niche ADHD videos appear in my feed that explain why I’ve felt or experienced certain things.
One digital creator on Instagram with the handle @connor.dewolfe creates videos that highlight ADHD traits that are normally overlooked. You can also check out the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada, for information, resources, and treatments.
So, if you suspecting you’re suffering from ADHD, even if your symptoms don’t line up with the stereotype, don’t freak out! It can manifest in and impact individuals differently, as it often does in women. It’s never too late to get a diagnosis, and you’re definitely not the only one who hasn’t been diagnosed before adulthood.