While most often diagnosed in childhood, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can affect both women and men of all ages. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2003 and 2015, the percentage of privately-insured U.S. women, ages 15-44, who filled a prescription for an ADHD medication increased nearly 350%.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means it has to do with the way your brain develops and grows. “To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must clearly interfere with your daily functioning and must be present in more than one setting,” said Kristie Julien, a psychiatrist with Banner Health. She also noted that some symptoms must have been present since childhood.
When it comes to diagnosing ADHD, women may slip through the cracks. “Women’s symptoms may be more subtle, such as difficulties paying attention, planning, organizing or recalling details,” said Dr. Julien. She also commented that women may be more prone to inattention, rather than hyperactivity, so ADHD often goes unnoticed and untreated.
ADHD symptoms and diagnosis
We all have times when it’s difficult to focus, but adults with ADHD never grew out of these behaviors as they enter adulthood.
Symptoms you may exhibit if you have Adult ADHD:
- Trouble focusing and paying attention
- Being disorganized or easily distracted
- Disliking tasks requiring mental effort
- Not being able to listen even when directly spoken to
- Not being detail-oriented or often making careless mistakes
- Having trouble following through on and finishing tasks
“ADHD symptoms can mimic other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder, so it’s important to be evaluated by a trained professional,” said Dr. Julien. According to the CDC, to be diagnosed with ADHD, you must meet five of the ADHD symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5),whereas a child must meet six of the symptoms.
ADHD treatment options
When it comes to treatment for ADHD, you have two options: medication and behavioral.
ADHD medication treatments
Medications you can take for ADHD include stimulants, cognition-enhancing medications and antihypertensives. Stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall, increase levels of dopamine in your brain. “Stimulants are addictive medicines, meaning you may experience withdrawal when you stop taking them and may need escalating doses to achieve the same effect over time,” said Dr. Julien.
An example of a cognition-enhancing medication is Strattera which is non-addicting and increases norepinephrine in your brain. Antihypertensives, like clonidine and guanfacine, lower your blood pressure, increase focus and decrease hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.
ADHD medications come with side effects and it’s important you only use them as prescribed. As stimulants, they cause your heart to work harder and can create a strain on the whole cardiovascular system. Other possible effects include anxiety, depression, insomnia, anger, paranoia, increased blood pressure and heart rate – all of which should be monitored by your physician. “Abuse of stimulants if you have an undetected heart problem can be fatal,” said Dr. Julien.
ADHD behavioral remedies
Sometimes doctors treating women with ADHD recommend non-medication treatment or may prescribe a combination of behavioral and medication-based treatment.
With behavioral treatment, you create methods within your daily routine to deal with your ADHD. Dr. Julien offered the following examples of behavioral remedies:
- Creating and following to-do lists
- Scheduling tasks that require the most focus in the morning
- Taking frequent breaks during the school or workday
- Avoiding working in a location with many distractions
- Breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation to help you become more aware of thinking before acting
There are also benefits to seeking counseling or joining a support group. These forms of therapy can help you better cope with day-to-day issues or struggles from ADHD and to find encouragement from others who understand what you’re going through.
Find a Banner Health physician who can assist you with diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.