Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Girls and Women

<p>Liudmila Chernetska / Getty Images</p>

Liudmila Chernetska / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Kathleen Daly, MD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that causes symptoms like inattention (difficulty focusing), hyperactivity, (restlessness), and impulsivity (making rash decisions). Studies show that people assigned male at birth are more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than assigned females. However, new research is showing evidence that symptoms of ADHD may look different based on sex.

Symptoms of ADHD in women may manifest as restlessness, emotional instability, disorganization, hyperfocus, low self-esteem, and more. While symptoms may be present during childhood, they may develop gradually or worsen after experiencing life stressors or triggers like hormonal fluctuations.


Inattention makes focusing on tasks or conversations more difficult, especially if you find them uninteresting or tedious. Concentrating during lectures, following instructions, filling out lengthy paperwork, or remembering appointments may be more challenging. You may also frequently misplace your keys, wallet, phone, or glasses.


For men, hyperactivity typically causes excessive physical movement like running or climbing. While this can also be true for women, hyperactivity can manifest as feeling restless or having an overactive brain. As a result, you may experience the following:

What Is Stimming?

A subtle manifestation of hyperactivity may be stimming behaviors, which may relieve restlessness or boredom and increase concentration. Most people associate stimming with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But, it can also occur in ADHD as both conditions are neurological (or, affect the brain). Examples include:

  • Leg bouncing, rocking, pacing

  • Nail biting or skin picking

  • Playing with fabric textures or hair

  • Rearranging objects

  • Clicking a pen

  • Humming

  • Teeth grinding

  • Doodling

  • Smelling a comforting scent


Impulsivity leads to spontaneous actions without considering consequences. This might involve impulse buying, reckless driving, participating in risky sexual behaviors, changing plans without considering the effect on others, or overbooking yourself by saying yes to multiple commitments.

Difficulty With Organization and Time Management

Being disorganized can sometimes lead to cluttered living or work spaces, difficulty keeping track of belongings, and problems sticking to schedules or routines. You may also underestimate how long tasks will take (which is known as time blindness) or find it difficult to shift attention between multiple tasks. This can often result in missing deadlines.

Emotional Instability

Emotional instability can cause mood swings that fluctuate rapidly. You might experience bursts of excitement, irritability, or sadness in a short amount of time. These mood swings often occur due to small triggers or events. For example, receiving constructive criticism might provoke an intense emotional reaction and make you feel insecure. Unexpected changes in plans may cause stress or frustration.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is a negative perception of yourself or your worth. This feeling is often common among girls and women with ADHD. A low self-esteem may stem from challenges in meeting expectations, struggling to complete tasks as efficiently as peers, receiving frequent criticism for forgetfulness, fear of rejection, or getting bullied.


Procrastination involves delaying tasks, especially in exchange for enjoyable activities, despite knowing the potential negative consequences. Putting off studying for an exam until the last minute, delaying work assignments until they are urgent, or neglecting household chores until they are unmanageable are some common examples of procrastination.

Executive Dysfunction

Executive functioning is your ability to plan, prioritize, problem-solve, and make decisions. Some women with ADHD may experience challenges in these abilities. You may frequently forget to bring materials to class or work, have trouble following instructions for complex tasks, or experience difficulty in creating and sticking to a budget.


When you get overly absorbed in one thing and ignore everything else, you may be experiencing hyperfocus. For instance, you might study for hours on one subject and forget about other homework. Or, you might hyperfocus on organizing a room, spending hours rearranging items to perfection, and neglect other chores.

Difficulty with Relationships

Symptoms of ADHD can strain personal and professional relationships. Emotional outbursts, inattentiveness, or constant interruptions may hurt others, and emotional overwhelm can make it hard for you to talk things out. This symptom can be especially difficult, so it's important to talk to your healthcare provider or work with a mental health professional to help you navigate life with ADHD in your relationships.

Co-occurring Health Conditions

While the conditions below aren't symptoms of ADHD, some women with ADHD may have a higher risk of experiencing the following:

Looking For Support?

If you are experiencing a crisis, or know someone who is, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for free and confidential support 24/7. You can also visit for a list of additional resources or call the number below to reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline.

Symptoms in Children

In the United States, six million children between the ages of 3 and 17 receive an ADHD diagnosis. In fact, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood. Here's how ADHD can affect young girls:

  • Running or climbing at inappropriate times

  • Fidgeting or squirming

  • Difficulty engaging in quiet activities

  • Talking excessively and interrupting

  • Difficulty waiting their turn in games

  • Grabbing things without permission

  • Quickly switching activities or getting distracted by minor things

  • Having messy rooms or desks

  • Constantly forgetting their homework or misplacing things

It's important to understand that the above behaviors can be signs of ADHD and not just a lack of concern or laziness from your child. If you notice these behaviors, it's important to reach out to their pediatrician for support and diagnosis.

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

A family history of ADHD and symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, or impulsivity warrant evaluation from a healthcare provider. This is especially true if ADHD symptoms persist and affect daily life for several months at a time. Many women don’t realize they have ADHD until they notice it in their children and seek an evaluation for themselves.

Questions to Ask Your Provider

If you seek guidance for ADHD symptoms, the following questions may help you and your healthcare provider explore the next steps:

  • My ADHD symptoms are affecting my work and life responsibilities. What can I do to improve these behaviors?

  • What treatment options are available for managing ADHD?

  • Are there any resources, support services, or behavioral strategies that can help me manage ADHD symptoms?

  • Which lifestyle changes can I incorporate to make living with ADHD easier?

A Quick Review

Symptoms of ADHD may include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In women, ADHD can also manifest as internal restlessness, anxiety, forgetfulness, mood swings, low self-esteem, procrastination, and hyperfocus. If you experience these symptoms, getting support from a healthcare provider can help you get proper treatment and improve your quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are women less likely to have ADHD than men?

Statistics show higher rates of ADHD in those assigned male at birth (13%) than those assigned female at birth (6%). This may be due to an underdiagnosis in females because their symptoms may look different. But, research for ADHD in girls and women is improving, so experts hope that healthcare providers can recognize ADHD in assigned females more easily.

Why are symptoms in women different than in men?

Both males and females with ADHD might feel restless and experience emotional ups and downs. However, females often internalize symptoms or exhibit subtle symptoms, which might not be as obvious as the physical hyperactivity frequently seen in males.

Do symptoms of ADHD change as you get older?

Yes, symptoms of ADHD can change as you get older. Symptoms like hyperactivity may improve with age. But inattention may persist or worsen. As responsibilities increase, new symptoms may emerge or become more prominent. Symptoms can also worsen with hormonal changes during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, postpartum, or menopause.

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