ADHD Underdiagnosed in Girls Because of Sexism in Medical Research

Another week and another news item revealing medical sexism. Quartz details how "decades of failing to recognize ADHD in girls has created a 'lost generation' of women."

In the book Understanding Girls with AD/HD, "Littman and her co-authors explain that ADHD was first diagnosed in young, white boys, with a key indicator being hyperactivity. As a result, guidelines were written around how it manifests in boys, and research is almost exclusively focused on boys (1% is specific to girls, Littman says)." However, hyperactivity is not how the disorder usually manifests in girls who tend to daydream and have trouble following instructions. 

The issue of how diagnostic criteria are written is a serious problem and it affects virtually all medical research. There is a small, but growing movement to include more girls and women in medical research, but there is still no law requiring it and so most of the time researchers take the easy way out and only use male (and mostly white) subjects.

Diseases and disorders manifest differently between the sexes and since only men are studied, this leads to all sorts of problems: women having far more serious side effects from taking medications only ever tested on men, women not being diagnosed with disorders because their symptoms do not match those written in the textbooks. You read a lot about how women are more likely to die of a heart attack because doctors don't recognize their symptoms. It's not the doctors' fault, though, you hear. The problem is that women's symptoms tend to be "atypical" or not "textbook." But where did those "textbook" symptoms come from? They come from studies done exclusively on men. Women make up more than 50% of the population so there's no reason their symptoms should be classified as "atypical." But this will continue to happen as long as women are not included in research. And consequently, every year women's lives are not lived as fully because they're not getting the treatment they need, and in some instances, they die.

To read the full Quartz article, click HERE