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More and more women being diagnosed with ADHD, study finds

<i>WCBS</i><br/>ADHD is often associated with children who may have trouble paying attention
Willingham, James
ADHD is often associated with children who may have trouble paying attention

By Jenna DeAngelis

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    NEW YORK (WCBS) — ADHD is often associated with children who may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, or are overly active.

But a study found more people are being diagnosed, especially adult women, narrowing the gap with men.

CBS New York recently spoke with patients and doctors about why they think this is happening, and the impact of social media.

As Caroline Dowling scrolled through the TikTok, she came across videos discussing ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“I just started going, ‘Oh, that’s me. That sounds just like me,'” Dowling said.

When asked what it was she saw on the videos that made her think she has ADHD, she said, “The fluctuation of attention. If I’m interested in something new I get so hyper-focused into it, I like want to become an expert in it until, all of a sudden, I’m just not interested in it anymore. That’s how I’ve been my whole life.”

Dowling was evaluated and discovered, at 41 years old, she has ADHD.

Nicole Ryan was diagnosed at 40.

“I really had no idea that ADHD diagnoses were even common with women my age. I always thought of it as a middle school or elementary school problem,” Ryan said.

In a recent study, Epic Research, an organization that analyzes electronic medical record data, looked at more than 3 million patient records nationwide and found an increase in new ADHD patients, especially women.

Researchers found while the overall incidence of ADHD remains small among adults, less than 1%, with kids more commonly diagnosed, the percentage of adult women newly diagnosed nearly doubled from 2020 to 2022.

“I think a lot of this is attributable to the rise of social media and people talking about it and how women are either under-diagnosed or completely overlooked and missed in their younger years,” neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows young boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls. Hafeez believes that’s because ADHD often presents differently in girls.

“Their ADHD doesn’t present necessarily as hyperactivity and impulsivity. They’re less disruptive, but they could be more inattentive,” Hafeez said.

“Looking back on my life, there were signs and symptoms all along that were overlooked, but getting into my late 30s with anxiety and depression diagnosis, and then realizing there’s something else going on here,” Ryan said.

Ryan said social media helps connect her with other women diagnosed.

“You just don’t feel so alone,” Ryan said.

Dowling has found constant swiping can be a double-edged sword.

“It makes my symptoms more noticeable, I think, and I think that it has actually, ultimately, lowered my attention span for other things,” Dowling said.

“We want technology to work for us, not be owned by the technology, so to speak, and so we may come up with ways on how to adjust their devices so that they are able to meet those kind of mindfulness goals that may help them better,” said Dr. Justin Kei, medical director for outpatient behavioral health at Hackensack University Medical Center.

Kei said he is seeing more women inquiring about ADHD, with social media part of the conversation.

“I’m glad that it’s encouraging people to seek care, which is what we want,” Kei said.

But doctors say be mindful, because not everyone online is an expert, and getting easily distracted doesn’t mean you have ADHD.

“I think women with and without children just wear a lot of hats,” Hafeez said, “and the easiest thing to do is to pick up your smartphone and take a little mental vacation.”

Experts say if you think you may have ADHD it’s important to get evaluated by a health care provider. Treatment can include medication and/or therapy, and is tailored to each individual.

Both women CBS New York spoke with say since being diagnosed their lives have changed, for the better.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

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