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What should I do if I think I have ADHD?

Talk to your general practitioner. They can discuss your symptoms with you and refer you to a specialist for evaluation if needed. Common ADHD symptoms often have other explanations, such as anxiety, depression and physical health conditions — so it’s essential to talk to an ADHD specialist to rule out any alternate causes.  

How is ADHD diagnosed?

There is no single test that can tell you whether you have ADHD or not. An accurate diagnosis usually requires a thorough evaluation, medical history review and clinical assessment of your symptoms and how they impact your ability to function.

What happens next?

Your health care professional can discuss the various treatment options with you, which may include education, cognitive behavioral therapy and/or stimulant or nonstimulant medications.

Fascinating Facts About Women & ADHD

Three types of attention disorders — and why females often go undiagnosed

By Shilo Urban
Illustration by Claudia Humphrey

My wallet had disappeared into the ether, but I knew the drill: call the bank, contact my credit card companies, kiss the cash goodbye. I was barely even upset; it was the fifth time in six months I’d lost my wallet, and I’d done this song and dance before. But deep down, I knew there was something seriously wrong with my inability to keep up with one of my most important possessions. 

Years earlier, my mother, an elementary school principal, had mentioned that I was acting a lot like her students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Yeah, right, Mom, I thought. Whatever. The idea nagged at me though, so I took some online quizzes, and all the results agreed with the motherly insight. But it was the cavalcade of wallet losses that finally forced me to find a psychiatrist. At 30 years old, I was diagnosed with and given treatment for a mental disorder — and it was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

When you hear the term “ADHD,” you probably imagine hyperactive little boys bouncing off classroom walls. This stereotype is one of the reasons that many women remain undiagnosed, blaming themselves as usual for their lack of focus, forgetfulness and poor organizational skills. 

While it’s true that more males than females have historically been diagnosed with ADHD, the latest research shows that both sexes suffer equally from the condition — but females are far less likely to be diagnosed. The traditional perception that ADHD affects only boys leads to women being overlooked and missing out on treatment that can help. Instead, women live in emotional turmoil for decades, labeling themselves as ditsy or dumb, believing their treatable symptoms are character defects instead. 

Some of the diagnosis gap stems from a general misunderstanding about the disorder’s symptoms, which often present themselves differently in males and females. ADHD has three types according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition: hyperactive/impulsive, inattentive and combined.

• Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD gives us the stereotypical image of the condition. Sufferers can be fidgety, overly talkative, impatient, restless and always “on the go.” Many of these symptoms are socially disruptive, which get the attention of teachers and parents, who reach out to psychiatrists for help. Children and men are more likely to be diagnosed with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD.

• Inattentive ADHD is probably less familiar to you; it’s more commonly diagnosed in girls and adults. Those with inattentive ADHD can have difficulty paying attention and listening, staying focused and following instructions. They tend to forget or lose things, and they’re easily distracted by external stimuli. Disorganization and careless mistakes are also hallmarks of inattentive ADHD.

• Combined ADHD patients meet the criteria for both the hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive types.

Every woman on the planet feels restless or inattentive sometimes, but an ADHD diagnosis requires that most of the symptoms listed in the DSM-5 have persisted for more than six months in multiple settings and have negatively impacted the person’s ability to function socially, occupationally or academically.

For me, being diagnosed with ADHD was the first step in learning how to deal with it. Today, I understand that I must work with my unique brain instead of trying to force it to be something it’s not and to always keep my sense of humor. No matter what age you are, an accurate ADHD diagnosis and treatment can have positive and even life-changing benefits. If you are suffering, you are not alone — help is out there. 

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