Girls With ADHD Are More Likely To Have Other Disorders & That's Not The Only Way It Affects Women's Health

When you think of someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you probably picture a boy fidgeting at his desk. It's typically considered a "boy's disorder," but in reality, it affects girls equally, if differently. In fact, according to new research, girls with ADHD are more likely than those without the disorder to develop other problems — not just anxiety and depression, which are often diagnoses alongside ADHD, but lesser-known behavioral disorders.

In a paper published in the journal Pediatrics this month, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed data from 18 prior studies; taken together, this provided them with data for 1,997 participants under the age of 18, about 40 percent of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. According to Science Daily, most of the original studies focused on comparing girls and boys with ADHD, but the UCLA researchers took a different focus. When girls with and without the disorder were compared to each other, researchers found that those with ADHD were far more likely to have been diagnosed with other disorders.

Nearly 38 percent of girls with ADHD met the criteria for an anxiety disorder, while just 14 percent of girls without the disorder met the same criteria. About three percent of girls without ADHD were diagnosed with depression, compared to 10 percent of those with ADHD. Considering the well-established link between ADHD and both of these disorders, these findings aren't exactly surprising, but here's the interesting part. The biggest disparities were actually seen in two behavioral disorders, conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

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Only five percent of girls without ADHD had been diagnosed with ODD, a disorder characterized by anger, hostility, and problems with authority figures, but that number skyrocketed to 42 percent in girls with ADHD. In the same vein, less than one percent of girls without ADHD had been diagnosed with conduct disorder, a disorder similar to ODD but with more aggressive symptoms, but nearly 13 percent of those with ADHD had received a diagnosis.

Lead author Irene Tung pointed out that the results may have seemed less surprising if the study had looked at behavioral disorders in boys. "People tend to thinof girls as having higher risk for depression and anxiety disorders, and boys as being more likely to exhibit conduct disorders, but we found that ADHD for girls substantially increases their risk for these conduct disorders," she said in Science Daily. ADHD has also been shown to increase the risk for substance abuse later in life.

For years, ADHD was seen as the territory of hyperactive boys, but research increasingly indicates that it's just as likely to occur in girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control, boys are diagnosed more often, but this may be because their symptoms are more obvious. Dr. Patricia Quinn told the Child Mind Institute that girls tend to be less hyperactive — less fidgeting and more daydreaming. "People imagine little boys bouncing off the walls and think: That’s what ADHD looks like and if this girl doesn’t look like that then she doesn’t have ADHD," she told the Institute.

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When research focuses heavily on boys and men, a huge chunk of the population is ignored, and this can have devastating consequences. Women are frequently taken less seriously by doctors, and despite the stereotype, research has shown ADHD has a huge impact on women's physical and mental health. According to a study published earlier this year, women with ADHD are far more likely to report chronic pain, past abuse, and severe poverty, and they're more likely to have considered suicide. ADHD has also been associated with a higher risk for eating disorders, which tend to affect women disproportionately when compared to men.

On the bright side, the UCLA study shows that more attention is being paid to ADHD in girls — let's hope the trend continues.

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