What is ADHD?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes ADHD. It may be due to genes or problems with brain development at key moments in childhood. It’s also linked to a higher risk of depression, drug and alcohol use and relationship problems.
People with ADHD can live successful lives if they get treatment. But without it, they may struggle at school and work.
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD can affect both children and adults, and without treatment it can interfere with work, school, relationships and home life. People with ADHD often have trouble paying attention or sitting still for long periods of time, and they may be more likely to make careless mistakes or have trouble following instructions and keeping track of tasks. They may also be more likely to have trouble staying organized, and they may get bored more easily than other people.
Symptoms of ADHD can manifest in four different ways, and providers use these symptoms to determine whether a person has Inattentive ADHD, Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD, Combined Type ADHD or Unspecified ADHD. Providers can diagnose ADHD by gathering information about a person’s history and behavior, using checklists and rating scales to review symptoms and asking them about their current functioning.
Women and girls with ADHD may have difficulty getting diagnosed because they are better at hiding their symptoms, which can make it hard for others to see that they have problems with organizing, focusing, or remembering things. They might also have a harder time believing that their difficulties are because of their ADHD, which can lead to low self-esteem and confidence.
Types of ADHD
People with ADHD often struggle to focus on the tasks at hand. They are more likely to lose track of their schedules, forget phone calls and texts, or skip out on events they’re supposed to attend. They also have trouble sitting still for long periods of time, making it difficult to stay engaged in lectures or conversations.
Hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD is the least common presentation of ADHD and is typically more pronounced in children and teenagers. They fidget a lot, can’t sit still and have excess energy. They may interrupt others, speak before thinking and act without planning. This type of ADHD typically affects more boys than girls.
Predominantly inattentive type ADHD is more common in adults and females. Those with this form of the condition struggle to stay focused during lectures or conversations, and they often forget to complete chores or reminders. It’s also easy for them to get distracted by their own thoughts and wander off on unrelated tangents.
Combined type ADHD is the most common presentation of ADHD and consists of symptoms from both inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity. In order to receive this diagnosis, a person must have at least six symptoms of both types. Symptoms must occur over at least 6 months and be present in more than one setting, such as home and school. They must also not be better explained by another mental health condition, like depression or anxiety.
Causes of ADHD
Researchers don’t know what causes ADHD, but it may have something to do with problems involving the front part of the brain that regulates behavior. They also think that genes and the environment play a role. Some people are more prone to developing the disorder than others, and it’s more common in males than in females.
For a child to meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD, they must have six or more symptoms and experience them in two or more settings. They must also show that the symptoms are severe enough to cause dysfunction in social, school and work settings. They must have had the symptoms for at least six months. In addition, a mental health provider must identify the severity of the disorder: mild, moderate or severe.
Children with ADHD often have other co-occurring disorders, including oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, anxiety, depression, tic disorders or Tourette syndrome, substance abuse and sleep disorders. These conditions can make it harder to pay attention or control impulsive behaviors. When these disorders are not treated, it can lead to academic problems and family distress. Parents can help their children with ADHD by setting clear rules and routines, being consistent in discipline and rewarding good behavior.
How is ADHD Diagnosed?
Many people with ADHD aren’t diagnosed until adulthood, when they often see a doctor or mental health provider for the first time. A psychiatric evaluation for ADHD will include an interview with the person and their family, completion of scales and questionnaires by the person and their caregivers and teachers, a complete medical and family history, a physical examination and blood tests to rule out any medical causes of symptoms.
In order to diagnose a person with ADHD, symptoms must be present in two or more settings (home, school and social situations) and must cause impairment. A psychiatric professional will also determine the type of ADHD, inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive.
Some things you can do to help manage your child’s ADHD symptoms: Keep a regular routine, especially around meals, naps and bedtime. Put a large calendar up in your home and mark special activities and everyday chores. Try to avoid sudden changes to your schedule, as children with ADHD have a difficult time adjusting to change. Organize everything you can, such as using folders to hold homework and books. Encourage your child to interact with their peers. Use a rewards system to reinforce positive behaviors. Keep in mind that the more you practice these strategies, the more effective they will become.
Treatsments for ADHD
Treatment options for ADHD include medication, counseling and lifestyle changes. People with ADHD may find it helpful to keep a schedule, use a planner or calendar and organize everyday items in their home. Reminder notes and alarms, putting items in specific spots and using dietary supplements that provide omega-3 have also been shown to be beneficial. Children with ADHD might find it useful to attend special classes or educational programs that focus on teaching strategies and classroom accommodations to help them succeed.
For adults, a behavioral specialist who uses behavior modification or cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach them how to manage their symptoms. They might also recommend regular checkups with a doctor to monitor the effects of medications.
Counseling, or psychotherapy, can help adults with ADHD learn coping skills and improve their relationships with family members, friends and coworkers. Marital or family counseling can also help loved ones better understand a person with ADHD and learn how to support them. People with ADHD can also join a support group to meet other people who have the disorder and share information and resources about managing symptoms. Some organizations offer these groups in local communities, and they are available online.
ADHD in Adults
People with ADHD have many challenges, but they can live happy and fulfilling lives. They just need to get treatment and follow a plan that works for them.
In the United States, health care professionals use a standard set of guidelines to diagnose mental disorders, including ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition Text Revision (DSM-5-TR) provides these criteria.
Adults with ADHD often have symptoms like trouble finishing tasks, poor organizational skills, and difficulty staying focused. They may also have problems with relationships and work performance, as well as mood problems.
Treatment for adults with ADHD can include lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. It can also include cognitive and behavioral therapy, such as goal setting, time management strategies, and relaxation training. It can also include job coaching and support, and parenting strategies.
The most commonly used medication for adults with ADHD is called a stimulant. These medications increase brain chemicals that help with focus and attention. It’s important to tell your health care provider about any other medications you are taking, because some interact with these drugs. It’s also important to remember to take your medication several times a day, because it can wear off quickly.
It can take time to find the right medicine, dosage, and schedule that works best for a child with ADHD. It’s also common for a person to have a variety of side effects from their ADHD medication. Some of these are temporary and may go away over a few days or weeks as the body adjusts to the medication.
Most children and adults with ADHD are treated with stimulant medications. These medications increase levels of brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, which help people think clearly and control their behavior. Most of these medications aren’t considered habit-forming and don’t cause substance use disorders when used under a doctor’s supervision. However, they do have a potential to make some people who take them feel high when they first start taking them.
Stimulant medications that are available to treat ADHD include methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and atomoxetine (brand name Strattera). These drugs come in tablet form and are taken by mouth. They can help improve focus and decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity in people of all ages, but they’re most effective for children and teenagers. They’re not as useful for adults, who usually have trouble getting a good night’s sleep on the pills.