A Review of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Women and Girls: Uncovering This Hidden Diagnosis
Objective: To describe the clinical presentation of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in women and girls and factors influencing proper diagnosis and treatment.
Data Sources: A PubMed search was conducted in April 9, 2012 for English-language publications from the previous 10 years. Search terms included attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, and AD/HD combined with gender, girls, females, women, continuity, discontinuity, gap, treatment, untreated, and lack of treatment.
Study Selection/Data Extraction: A total of 41 articles were reviewed for relevance. Reference lists from relevant articles were reviewed for additional publications; sources known to the authors were also included.
Results: Attitudes about ADHD among individuals with ADHD and knowledgeable informants (families, teachers, colleagues) vary on the basis of the diagnosed individual’s gender. The ADHD prevalence rates are higher among boys than girls. A low index of clinical suspicion exists for girls; their presentation is considered "subthreshold" because inattentiveness is more prominent than hyperactivity/impulsivity. Females with ADHD may develop better coping strategies than males to mask their symptoms. Lastly, anxiety and depression, common comorbidities in female patients with ADHD, can lead to missed or misdiagnosis. If not properly diagnosed and treated, girls with ADHD experience the same negative consequences as boys, including poor academic performance and behavioral problems. Unique issues related to hormonal effects on ADHD expression and treatment response are also experienced by women and girls.
Conclusions: Accurate ADHD diagnosis in women and girls requires establishing a symptom history and an understanding of its gender-specific presentation. Coexisting anxiety and depression are prominent in female patients with ADHD; satisfactory academic achievement should not rule out an ADHD diagnosis.
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