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ADHD Misdiagnosis: Unravelling the Confusion


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is commonly associated with hyperactive children, but it is also prevalent among adults, particularly women and older individuals. Unfortunately, due to overlapping symptoms and societal perceptions, ADHD is often misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety, or even bipolar disorder. This misdiagnosis can lead to ineffective treatment and prolonged suffering. Understanding the nuances between these conditions is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management.

Understanding ADHD

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms can vary in intensity and may present differently in adults compared to children. While hyperactivity is more noticeable in children, adults may experience restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and chronic disorganisation.

Why ADHD Is Often Misdiagnosed

  1. Symptom Overlap:
    • Depression: Both ADHD and depression can cause low motivation, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. However, depression often includes persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, which are not primary symptoms of ADHD.
    • Anxiety: Anxiety and ADHD both lead to restlessness and difficulty focusing. However, anxiety is usually driven by specific worries or fears, whereas ADHD-related inattention is more pervasive and not tied to particular stressors.
    • Bipolar Disorder: The mood swings in bipolar disorder can be mistaken for the impulsivity and emotional dysregulation seen in ADHD. However, bipolar disorder involves distinct manic and depressive episodes, while ADHD symptoms are more constant.


Women are more likely to be underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed with ADHD. They often exhibit inattentive symptoms rather than hyperactive ones, leading to misconceptions. This can result in diagnoses of anxiety or depression instead.

Whereas older adults may attribute their symptoms to ageing or stress, leading healthcare providers to misinterpret as depression or anxiety. Additionally, older adults may have developed coping mechanisms that mask their symptoms, further complicating diagnosis.

The Impact Of Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis can have significant consequences, including:

  • Inappropriate Treatment: Treating ADHD with antidepressants or anxiety medications can alleviate some symptoms but does not address the core issues. This can result in ongoing struggles with attention and executive function.
  • Increased Risk of Comorbidities: Untreated ADHD can lead to the development of secondary issues like substance abuse, relationship problems, and low self-esteem.
  • Emotional Distress: Individuals misdiagnosed with depression or anxiety may feel frustrated and misunderstood, exacerbating their symptoms.

How Do We Ensure Accurate Diagnosis?

Comprehensive Evaluation:

  • Thorough assessment by a specialist, including detailed patient history, behavioural observations, and standardised rating scales, is essential. This helps distinguish between ADHD and other conditions.

Awareness and Education:

  • Educating other healthcare providers about the presentation of ADHD in different demographics can improve diagnostic accuracy. Additionally, raising public awareness about adult symptoms can encourage individuals to seek appropriate evaluation.

Differential Diagnosis:

  • Our clinicians consider and rule out other conditions that mimic symptoms. This involves looking at the pattern, context, and history of symptoms rather than isolated behaviours.

Gender-Sensitive Approaches:

  • We recognise the unique ways ADHD manifests in women so we can prevent misdiagnosis and ensure they receive the correct treatment

Currently in the UK there is a 6-9 month wait for assessments on the NHS health service. With our assessments, we have same day appointments with results within 2 days. Ensuring you are receiving prompt diagnosis and peace of mind. 

By understanding the complexities and overlaps with conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, especially in women and older adults, healthcare providers can better identify and provide the necessary support and interventions. Awareness, education, and comprehensive evaluations are key to preventing misdiagnosis and ensuring individuals receive the help they need.

Click here to book an appointment with one of our doctors. 

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