Why ADD Goes Undetected in So Many Women

ADD Symptoms in Women

When superstar influencer Laura Clery got a brain scan as part of an evaluation at Amen Clinics, she received a diagnosis she never expected—ADD. “Even though I really struggled to focus growing up… and I struggled to take tests, and I never felt very smart,” she says in the Facebook video post she shared with her 11 million social media followers, “I never really thought about [ADD].” The comedian says she thought she was just lazy and easily distracted as if it was a character flaw. When she was younger, Clery had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but that diagnosis didn’t fit.

Clery isn’t alone.

At Amen Clinics, the global leader in brain health, thousands of women who had been previously misdiagnosed have learned they actually have ADD (also known as ADHD). There are potentially hundreds of thousands or even millions of women across the U.S. who are struggling with undetected ADD. You may be one of them. And it could be impacting your self-esteem, career, relationships, and personal health and fitness. In the worst-case scenario, it could be ruining your life.

Why do so many women with this common condition remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed? Because ADD looks different in females.

ADD SYMPTOMS IN WOMEN

Most people think of ADD as a condition that is primarily seen in males who are hyperactive and impulsive. In fact, women are just as likely as men to have ADD, according to a paper in The ADHD Report. And a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that women experience more severe ADD symptoms than their male counterparts. But women tend to have a different type of the condition that comes with its own set of symptoms.

The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics, which has the world’s largest database of functional brain scans related to behavior, has helped identify 7 types of ADD. The type that is most common in females is called Inattentive ADD. Although it’s the second most common type of the condition, its symptoms go unrecognized by many medical professionals. Unfortunately, many women with Inattentive ADD never get diagnosed. Instead, they’re labeled as slow, lazy, spacey, or unmotivated.

While people with Classic ADD, the most common type of the condition, bring negative attention to themselves with their hyperactivity, constant chatter, and conflict-driven behavior, women with Inattentive ADD tend to be quiet and distracted. Rather than cause problems, they’re more likely to daydream or look out the window. They’re not as likely to be impulsive or to blurt out inappropriate or hurtful things. They’re frequently thought of as couch potatoes who have trouble finding interest or motivation in their lives.

Core symptoms of all types of ADD include:

  • Easily distracted
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty following through (procrastination) on tasks or instructions
  • Difficulty keeping an organized area (room, office, desk, filing cabinet, car, etc.)
  • Has trouble with time, for example, frequently late or hurried, tasks take longer than expected, projects are “last minute” or turned in late
  • Forgetfulness
  • Problems with follow-through
  • Poor impulse control

Unique symptoms of Inattentive ADD include:

  • Problems with focus
  • Tendency to lose things
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Poor attention to detail
  • Forgetful
  • Excessive daydreaming
  • Complaints of being bored
  • Apathy or lack of motivation
  • Tired, sluggish, or slow moving
  • Seems spacey or preoccupied

Women with ADD are also more likely than men to have co-existing anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. This can make it more difficult to detect ADD in women and is another reason why brain imaging can be so helpful in getting an accurate diagnosis. Many of the women who come to Amen Clinics with undetected ADD had previously been diagnosed with mood disorders or other issues.

CONSEQUENCES OF UNTREATED ADD

Having undiagnosed or untreated ADD comes with a very high cost. And it increases the risk of many other issues, including:

This causes many women with undetected ADD to engage in unhealthy strategies to deal with their symptoms or to turn to antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, and other medications to cope with their discomfort. Not only are these medications ineffective in treating the underlying ADD, but they can also be loaded with unwanted side effects. Ultimately, it can create a downward spiral that leaves you feeling unfulfilled and unhappy with yourself and your life.

Inattentive ADD in the Brain

On her Facebook post, Clery shared her brain SPECT imaging studies, which showed low activity levels in the front part of her brain, especially when she tried to concentrate. In people who don’t have ADD, concentration typically activates an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is involved with focus, time management, planning, organization, and critical thinking. In people with ADD, however, concentrating actually reduces activity here, making it difficult to pay attention. This is why simply telling someone with ADD to “try harder” or blaming them for not having enough willpower doesn’t help. Brain imaging shows that the harder they try, the worse it gets.

The PFC is also involved with sustaining attention span. It trains your mind to focus on important information while filtering out less significant thoughts and sensations. Attention span is required for short-term memory and learning. The PFC, through its many connections within the brain, keeps you on task and allows you to stay with a project until it is finished. The PFC accomplishes this by sending quieting signals to other parts of the brain. In the face of a need to focus, the PFC decreases the distracting input from other brain areas, inhibiting rivals for our attention. However, when the PFC is underactive, less of a filtering mechanism is available and distractibility becomes common.

Problems in the PFC often lead to decreased attention span, distractibility, impaired short-term memory, decreased mental speed, apathy, and decreased verbal expression. Underactivity or damage in the PFC can also lead to a decreased ability to express thoughts and feelings. These are things women may experience when they have Inattentive ADD. But they often chalk it up to being lazy, ditzy, or depressed.

ENHANCING BRAIN FUNCTION IN INATTENTIVE ADD

The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that even if your PFC is underactive and you’ve had undetected ADD for decades, you have the opportunity to optimize your brain function and enhance your life. With the right treatment, you can be more focused, more organized, and more motivated to reach your goals. This has positive implications for every area of your life—career, health and fitness, relationships, and self-esteem.

Many women assume that medication is the only treatment option for ADD. And some, like Clery, hate the idea of taking stimulant medication. “When I think of ADD I think of Adderall, and Adderall is like legal speed,” says the influencer who openly talks about being a former addict (she’s been sober now for several years). “I think it’s extremely addictive, and I think it can destroy people’s lives if they have that addictive personality like I do.”

Neuropsychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, MD, the founder of Amen Clinics and 12-time bestselling author who evaluated Clery, has a different view. He says medication should never be the first or only thing you do for ADD. However, he adds, “Withholding appropriate stimulation from somebody who has sleepy frontal lobes is like withholding glasses from somebody who can’t see.”

Dr. Amen is quick to point out that medication is not the only option for treating Inattentive ADD or other types of the condition. At Amen Clinics, the ADD brain enhancement program includes medications (when necessary) but also focuses on natural alternatives to ADD medication, including diet, exercise, supplements, neurofeedback, behavioral interventions, psychological strategies, and more.

The good news is Inattentive ADD in women is usually very responsive to the right treatment. With an accurate diagnosis and the proper treatment program, you can change your brain, stop feeling bad about yourself, and start living the life you want.

ADD/ADHD—as well as anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions—can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

24 Comments

  1. People said of myself that I show know emotions, but I thought it was because I worked in hospital for 42 years. I can’t concentrate on anything not even sex. What is it natural that I can take for this?

    Comment by sheila hollinshed — October 2, 2020 @ 3:38 AM

  2. So what’s so important or so bad about being ADD. It is just another way the brain functions. Why is it a disorder? My wife is this type of person and she is so intelligent , creative and innovative amongst other things. Our society is so conforming . Yes, they have to learn how to function in our society but not to change who they are. Why can we not accept them as they are. I have been doing neurofeedback for 23 years. My objective in working with this population is not to change them but help to function in this conforming society.

    Comment by John Styffe — October 2, 2020 @ 4:30 AM

  3. I concur … My life would have been so different if I had been treated. Good to know that I am not alone.

    Comment by SARAH C BARTLETT — October 2, 2020 @ 4:50 AM

  4. THANK YOU for this article! The symptoms describe me perfectly. I’ve struggled all my life with this, but no healthcare provider ever provided a proper diagnosis. Now in my mid-40’s, I’m finally getting to the root of the problem. I’m truly grateful for those like you, who shed light on subjects like this.

    Comment by Jan — October 2, 2020 @ 7:25 AM

  5. I’ve had trouble with inattentiveness…day dreaming…unable to concentrate…forgetfulness…depression(for which I’m treated with 2 meds)…feeling inadequate…confused…
    I am 70 years old. I’m a grandmother of 8 and had alot of difficulty in my nursing career as a Home care and Hospice nurse. I loved the work but it was struggle. I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD but felt I fit the diagnosis. Getting older and in good health my daughters think I may be “losing it”. I think it worsens because it seems to be more obvious with age. I’d really like to know if this has been the problem all along. Better late than never and it would ease my mind to finally have an answer.

    Comment by Mary Robinson — October 2, 2020 @ 7:30 AM

  6. My wife is stuggeling with an other type of adhd…the overfocused type. Do you have interesting articles(like this one) conceirning this type, or any other advise on this? Thank you!

    Comment by Bob — October 2, 2020 @ 7:31 AM

  7. Yes. I have ADD. I was told that I have foot in the mouth disease. I am a very smart person. I’m thankful for your help.

    Comment by Eve L — October 2, 2020 @ 8:14 AM

  8. I felt so sad after reading this article. I’ve had these symptoms since I was young, but I was constantly talked down to and ridiculed because of these symptoms. I went to psychologists and psychiatrists, but I got very little help and certainly no help with my cognitive problems. Now I am a middle-aged woman living on disability payments and in extreme poverty with no hope of change. I wish I could have gotten help because perhaps my life would have been much better than it is now.

    Comment by Margaret — October 2, 2020 @ 8:26 AM

  9. I am 81 years old and have had some of these symptoms all my life. Never thought of ADD until my grandson was diagnosed with it. I recognized this in myself and my children. It would have been great if I knew of this when I was young.

    Comment by Betty Miller — October 2, 2020 @ 9:15 AM

  10. In addition to the above, I have also seen people with ADD symptoms respond well to movement therapy such as Rhythmic Movement Training which replicates the same movements done by infants to develop their brains.

    Comment by Janet Mullen — October 2, 2020 @ 10:46 AM

  11. I also am 70 year old grandmother. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD on my 60th birthday and still suffer with the symptoms. I was put on Adderall and loved it, but it did not work to well with my other medications for lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc. I would love to know if there is any natural/holistic treatment available.

    Comment by Fran — October 2, 2020 @ 1:43 PM

  12. I am 78. This makes me so sad. I wonder what have done with my life if I would have had any control over anything! I would like to be treated even at this late date. Where is the clinic? How could I find treatment locally? Please help!

    Comment by Mary Nicol — October 2, 2020 @ 3:04 PM

  13. I am a 71 year young grandmother of 5. After many years in psychotherapy for depression, at the age of 59 I discovered Inattentive ADD. The first few books that I read about ADD I would break down and cry because I realized I was reading about me. Even with that, so typical in this world, it wasn’t taken seriously. After all, I’m female. I’ve never gotten the help I needed.

    One of the early books I read was Dr. Daniel Amen’s 7 Types of ADD. Unfortunately for me, I live in Massachusetts and all, except for Washington, D.C., his clinics are on the West Coast.

    Blessings to us all.

    Comment by Jan Hartley — October 2, 2020 @ 9:11 PM

  14. This article annoy me a little because as a girl/woman I’ve always had “boy” adhd. So those of us like that tend to get punished more because the classic female adhd is to be ditzy, not to be the one jumping off of stuff and getting into fights.

    Comment by Tiffany — October 2, 2020 @ 10:35 PM

  15. I have had ADD all my life but didn’t get it diagnosed until I was 46. I have never received any help for it. Whenever I asked for help I was told that I already was able to cope with it this long why would I need medication now. I have high blood pressure which I take medication for, so I was afraid to take anything. It has really impacted my life having ADD, depression, self esteem, etc. My daughter had also been diagnosed with ADD again she hasn’t been able to get any treatment either. She ended up becoming an addict and is currently being treated for her addiction. She is unable to keep a job, has major anxiety problems, has very few friends etc. Despite being diagnosed early in her life she still couldn’t get the right help and ended up self medicating to get some relief. Where could she receive help?

    Comment by Kathleen — October 3, 2020 @ 5:45 AM

  16. I am 70 yrs. Old never finish anything

    Comment by Josephine — October 3, 2020 @ 10:58 AM

  17. I have liked hearing information from Dr. Amen. I watch his presentations on PBS. This article on ADD sounds exactly like me and throughout my life I have been ridiculed for many many of the symptoms listed by my family and friends. Wish it could have been discovered since the shoe seems to fit so well as I read this. I am 80 years old and my son was diagnosed as ADD (not ADHD) years ago.
    I have contacted you about the services provided but its so sad that nothing seems available to us in Columbus, OH so I’d have to go to Chicago or California for official diagnosis. Would like to see such services provided in other areas more closeby to make them more accessible.

    Comment by Carole Barkley — October 3, 2020 @ 3:02 PM

  18. FOUND OUT I HAVE INNATENTIVE ADD! HOW CAN I CONTACT YOU

    Comment by ENID HERNANDEZ — October 3, 2020 @ 4:07 PM

  19. Does Medicare cover Pet scans?

    Comment by Pam — October 3, 2020 @ 5:03 PM

  20. If there is such a thing as addiction to the computer/facebook, I am def one of those who suffer from it. One mental health prof. that I saw decided that I had bipolar disorder, but my then Pshchiatraist had me take some tests and it was decided I had ADD I was on Adderall for some time. Stopped taking it, don’t remember why. Years later when I went back to the DR. and we talked about my getting another prescription, he checked out several of the medical conditions that I had been recently Dx with, and found I could NOT take Adderall… he was not able to prescribe anything else at that time. He has since left the area and I find that I just cannot get motivated to do things I MUST DO… rather I sit at the computer all day, reading things on Fb and replying to comments, though I understand my thoughts are not that important in the scheme of things. I am wasting the rest of my life, specially now w/the Virus keeping us “in place” I will soon be 83, take some supplements suggested by a family member who is a doctor.. LifeVantage NAD, nrf1 and 2 and a probiotic + a thyroid med for Hashimotos Is there something else I can be taking? that does not interfere w/glaucoma?

    Comment by Mari Aru — October 3, 2020 @ 8:27 PM

  21. I am 59 now and having a problem for years now making decsions inregards to a career…as i have to get out of poverty.
    Having 3 kids with ADD, i think i have it too.
    My question is I would like to have a brain scan…
    Do you except Medical??
    In Ca.)
    Thanku

    Comment by Jacqueline — October 4, 2020 @ 2:51 PM

  22. How do I explain to my physician what I’m feeling?

    Comment by noemi Soto Osoria — October 4, 2020 @ 3:10 PM

  23. I was diagnosed with adhd I took methafinadate. It worked good. My Physciatrist retired. Then new Dr. was rude so stopped seeing Her. I have gone back to all the old semptons. I can not get in to see a new Dr. Just a counsler. I need help.

    Comment by Suzann Schoppe — October 5, 2020 @ 10:29 AM

  24. Hello Jacqueline, Amen Clinics is an out-of-network provider. We’d be happy to go over insurance, reimbursement, and financing options with you. We can contact you directly. Thank you for reaching out.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 9, 2020 @ 8:28 AM

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