Picture yourself treading water in the ocean. The surface is calm and sparkling in the sun, but you can feel strong currents pulling at you. To those watching, keeping your head above water looks effortless. But beneath the surface, your arms and legs are working frantically to keep you afloat.
This can be a lot like the experience of women dealing with inattentive ADHD.
People don’t see all the extra work put into keeping up with their peers. Nor do they see the self-doubt that builds up from falling short of their goals despite their best efforts.
Of course, untreated ADHD doesn’t stop many women from becoming incredibly successful – but it can make it more challenging.
These internalized symptoms of ADHD tend to be less obvious than externalized symptoms, like hyperactivity. As a result, women with inattentive-type ADHD are more likely to have their condition overlooked and untreated.
We’ve journeyed alongside many women living with inattentive ADHD. When equipped with resources and support, many go on to make their biggest dreams and ambitions a reality.
Understanding Inattentive ADHD
The key to spotting ADHD in women is learning how this condition typically presents.
ADHD can look different from one individual to another. However, people with the same subtype of ADHD tend to share similar challenges and struggles.
Inattentive ADHD, for instance, is a subtype of ADHD classified by more significant symptoms of inattention.
Symptoms of inattentive ADHD in women include:
- Being forgetful in day-to-day life (e.g., forgetting chores or bill payments)
- Failing to follow through on instructions and complete projects
- Missing important details and making careless mistakes
- Avoiding activities that require sustained attention
- Getting distracted by unrelated stimuli or thoughts
- Having trouble focusing for long periods
- Getting distracted when being spoken to
- Losing or misplacing important items
Women with inattentive-type ADHD will show five or more of the above symptoms. They may also experience symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity but to a lesser degree.
Some of these symptoms are as follows:
- Intruding into other people’s conversations and activities
- Being unable to sit still and being constantly on the go
- Blurting out answers or interrupting others
- Having trouble waiting their turn
- Talking excessively
Symptoms of inattentive ADHD can be very disruptive in a woman’s life. But women are also more likely to internalize their symptoms and keep their struggles to themselves instead of acting out because of their ADHD.
It’s important to understand that ADHD does not define a woman’s capabilities.
ADHD is more accurately described as an attention-abundance disorder rather than an attention-deficit disorder. By learning to control and harness this overflow of attention, many women go on to achieve whatever they put their minds to.
Effects of Female Hormones on Inattentive ADHD
Throughout their lifetime, women will have a fluctuating level of hormones. Changes in these hormones occur naturally at different stages of their menstrual cycle. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause alter the levels of female hormones, too.
More research is still needed to determine the exact effects of hormonal changes on ADHD symptoms and medications. However, based on current findings, estrogen is thought to have a beneficial impact on the ADHD brain.
So a drop in the levels of the hormone estrogen might lead to poorer executive functioning – which refers to the set of mental abilities that allows a person to focus, remember details, plan, and regulate emotions.
Here’s a breakdown of the different stages that may affect your hormones and wreak havoc on your ADHD symptoms.
- Follicular phase: This phase refers to the first two weeks of a regular menstrual cycle. During this stage, the levels of estrogen increase. Women with ADHD may experience reduced symptoms.
- Ovulation: A sharp drop in estrogen levels occurs right after ovulation – when a mature egg is released from the ovary in the middle of the menstrual cycle. Because of this, women may notice increased inattentive symptoms after ovulation.
- Luteal phase: This refers to the third and fourth week of the menstrual cycle after ovulation. Estrogen levels gradually go up, but so do progesterone levels. This rise in progesterone hormones might decrease the beneficial effects of estrogen on the brain, worsening ADHD symptoms.
Progesterone may also reduce the effectiveness of ADHD medications.
- Pregnancy: Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy may change the severity of ADHD symptoms. During pregnancy, estrogen levels tend to be higher, which might lead to decreased ADHD symptoms.
- Menopause: Around the years leading up to menopause, the ovaries stop releasing eggs, and estrogen levels gradually decline. This decline changes the levels of the chemical messengers serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Dopamine deficiency is linked to ADHD, so a drop in dopamine might increase distractability and reduce focus.
Meanwhile, decreased serotonin levels may increase the likelihood of mood disorders in menopausal women with ADHD.
Of course, not every woman with inattentive ADHD will notice changes in symptoms when hormone levels begin to fluctuate. However, it can be helpful to understand how hormones affect your ADHD symptoms.
You can do this by keeping a diary of your daily symptoms and tracking them against your menstrual cycle to look for repeating patterns. This information may help your healthcare team adjust your management plan or medications based on your symptoms.
It also helps to seek support from women going through a similar journey. Connect with ADHD support groups that cater to different needs and experiences, like our peer support group for women above 50.
Impact of Inattentive ADHD on Women’s Lives
Each person’s experience with ADHD differs. Some people with milder inattentive ADHD might be able to succeed and thrive with little to no support or treatment for their symptoms.
In contrast, other women might experience more severe symptoms of inattentive ADHD that gets in the way of their daily activities.
In this case, the right diagnosis and treatment will play a greater role in helping these women get back on their feet and succeed in different areas of life.
Let’s explore the different ways ADHD may affect a woman’s day-to-day life.
Inattentive ADHD and Its Impact on Career and Academics
Inattentive ADHD can affect focus, memory, and a person’s ability to plan, organize, and prioritize.
A woman with this condition may experience the following challenges at work or school:
- Forgetting important dates (e.g., exam dates or meetings)
- Having low motivation and procrastinating frequently
- Arriving late for meetings, classes, or lectures
- Struggling to manage their time and schedule
- Having poor grades or work performance
- Missing assignments or work deadlines
- Producing work with more errors
Inattentive ADHD isn’t about laziness or irresponsibility. Many women are giving their absolute best despite facing different roadblocks.
ADHD is a real medical condition that alters the brain’s chemistry. With medications and therapy, ADHDers can learn how to manage their focus, time, and energy and unlock their greatest potential.
How Inattentive ADHD Affects Relationships
ADHD may also contribute to relationship roadblocks and conflicts. Some research suggests that women with ADHD are more likely to experience difficulties in their social functioning and relationships than those without ADHD.
That’s because symptoms of ADHD may cause the following challenges:
- Forgetting special dates like birthdays and anniversaries
- Drifting off and losing focus during conversations
- Showing up late to dates, events, or meetups
- Forgetting to do the chores or errands
As such, dating someone with ADHD can leave the other feeling neglected or ignored.
That said, a woman with ADHD can absolutely build healthy and fulfilling relationships. It requires open communication from both parties and the willingness to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.
Apart from that, the person with ADHD can experiment with different structures to help them maintain relationships better. For example, they can set reminders for important dates or build a weekly chore chart for their roles and responsibilities in the household.
Inattentive ADHD and Its Effect on Physical and Mental Health
Another key reason to treat inattentive ADHD is to minimize its impact on a woman’s mental and physical well-being.
Women with ADHD are more likely to develop a co-occurring mental health disorder like anxiety or depression. Additionally, they may have lower self-esteem and confidence.
When met with stressful situations, women with ADHD may feel like they lack control, which might contribute to sleep problems.
Furthermore, these feelings of worry and stress may translate into physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and muscle pain.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to get ADHD treated. Women of any age can improve their mental and physical well-being with professional help and support.
Misdiagnosis of Inattentive ADHD in Women
The traits of ADHD, whether inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, look the same in both men and women.
However, inattentive ADHD is more likely to be overlooked or misdiagnosed in women for various reasons, including the following:
- The symptoms of inattention in ADHD tend to be less noticeable and disruptive to other people than externalized symptoms like hyperactivity.
- Women tend to develop more effective coping skills and strategies than men. As a result, they’re more capable of masking their ADHD and reducing its impact on their daily activities.
- Low mood, mood swings, and anxiety are more common in women with ADHD. This could lead to their ADHD being overlooked and misdiagnosed as another mental health condition like depression or anxiety.
- Symptoms of inattention in ADHD can also persist even as a woman ages. And with older age, any persistent symptoms of inattention may be incorrectly diagnosed as cognitive impairment.
You can see why inattentive-type ADHD in women can be harder to spot and diagnose.
Fortunately, many adult women gradually develop an awareness of their struggles and challenges. This beckons them to seek the help and support they need to manage their symptoms effectively.
How to Get Diagnosed With Inattentive ADHD
No single medical test or examination can determine whether a woman has inattentive ADHD.
The best way to get a proper diagnosis of ADHD is by seeking advice from a medical professional.
Your doctor will carry out a thorough review of your symptoms and medical history. You’ll be asked about the symptoms you currently experience and their impact on your daily activities.
Since ADHD is a childhood-onset condition, your doctor will need to determine whether your symptoms were already present when you were younger.
Your doctor may request to interview someone who knew you well as a child, like your parent or teacher. They may also ask to look at any report cards or school documents that might paint a clearer picture of your childhood challenges.
Your condition may also be assessed through ADHD rating scales. These tests usually contain a checklist of ADHD challenges and symptoms. After you’ve filled out the rating form, your doctor will analyze your results.
Managing Inattentive ADHD: Treatment and Strategies
Treatment and support is life-changing for many women with inattentive ADHD.
ADHD can be treated with either medications or therapy for adult ADHDers. However, a combination of medication and therapy is usually the most effective for curbing symptoms of ADHD.
The following are inattentive ADHD treatment and management options for adults:
- Medications: Inattentive ADHD is most widely treated using stimulant medications. These medications help regulate the level of chemical messengers in the brain, improving symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help women with ADHD build essential skills, such as prioritizing, creating a schedule, making to-do lists, and scheduling breaks and rewards. Through CBT, participants can also learn how to improve their focus by recognizing their optimal attention span and planning tasks based on that.
They’ll also explore ways to deal with distractions, such as setting alarms and creating a conducive environment for focused work.
- Mindfulness meditation training: Mindfulness meditation is the practice of becoming fully aware of the present moment. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can help improve attention, executive functioning, and working memory.
- Support groups: Support groups are a safe space for women with inattentive ADHD to share their experiences with others on the same journey. These communities allow women to seek guidance, advice, and support on managing their symptoms and improving their daily functioning.
- ADHD coaching: ADHD coaching may improve time management, organization, planning, self-esteem, and motivation. An ADHD coach can help a person create strategies to address daily challenges. Examples include creating schedules, to-do lists, calendar reminders, and alarms.
It might take a couple of weeks before you notice any improvements from taking ADHD medications. Your healthcare team will also monitor your progress, watch for any side effects, and adjust your treatment accordingly.
With time and consistency, medications, therapy, and other forms of support can help women with ADHD manage their symptoms and regain control over their daily lives.
The Ship Hasn’t Sailed: It’s Never Too Late to Get Help
Research suggests that symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity tend to decrease from childhood into adulthood. On the other hand, symptoms of inattention are more likely to persist.
This may explain why many women with inattentive ADHD experience daily challenges far into adulthood. So seeking professional help for inattentive ADHD is just as crucial for adult women.
The right management plan will help women explore their strengths and skills with fewer setbacks. This opens the door to a new world of opportunities in their career, academics, and social life.
Learn more about inattentive ADHD and other types of ADHD in women through ADDA+. This premier resource center provides expert-backed advice, support groups, courses, and tools that can equip ADHDers to achieve their daily goals.
 Stibbe, T., Huang, J., Paucke, M., Ulke, C., & Strauss, M. (2020). Gender differences in adult ADHD: Cognitive function assessed by the test of attentional performance. PloS One, 15(10), e0240810. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0240810
 National Institute of Mental Health. (2014). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). NIMH. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd
 Rucklidge J. J. (2010). Gender differences in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(2), 357–373. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2010.01.006
 Young, S., Adamo, N., Ásgeirsdóttir, B. B., Branney, P., Beckett, M., Colley, W., Cubbin, S., Deeley, Q., Farrag, E., Gudjonsson, G., Hill, P., Hollingdale, J., Kilic, O., Lloyd, T., Mason, P., Paliokosta, E., Perecherla, S., Sedgwick, J., Skirrow, C., Tierney, K., … Woodhouse, E. (2020). Females with ADHD: An expert consensus statement taking a lifespan approach providing guidance for the identification and treatment of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in girls and women. BMC Psychiatry, 20(1), 404. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-02707-9
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. DSM-5 Changes: Implications for Child Serious Emotional Disturbance [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2016 Jun. Table 7, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Comparison. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519712/table/ch3.t3/
 Quinn, P. O., & Madhoo, M. (2014). A review of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in women and girls: uncovering this hidden diagnosis. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 16(3), PCC.13r01596. https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.13r01596
 Antoniou, E., Rigas, N., Orovou, E., Papatrechas, A., & Sarella, A. (2021). ADHD Symptoms in Females of Childhood, Adolescent, Reproductive and Menopause Period. Materia Socio-medica, 33(2), 114–118. https://doi.org/10.5455/msm.2021.33.114-118
 Roberts, B., Eisenlohr-Moul, T., & Martel, M. M. (2018). Reproductive steroids and ADHD symptoms across the menstrual cycle. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 88, 105–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.11.015
 Advokat, C., & Scheithauer, M. (2013). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulant medications as cognitive enhancers. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7, 82. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2013.00082
 Lopez, P. L., Torrente, F. M., Ciapponi, A., Lischinsky, A. G., Cetkovich-Bakmas, M., Rojas, J. I., Romano, M., & Manes, F. F. (2018). Cognitive-behavioural interventions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3(3), CD010840. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD010840.pub2
 Mitchell, J. T., Zylowska, L., & Kollins, S. H. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation Training for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adulthood: Current Empirical Support, Treatment Overview, and Future Directions. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 22(2), 172–191. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2014.10.002
 Cleveland Clinic. (2022, October 6). ADHD Medications: How They Work & Side Effects. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/11766-adhd-medication