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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, ADD)

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About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, ADD)

ADHD is characterized by problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior which may affect school functioning, work patterns, and social and family relationships.

Not every person with ADHD has problems in all ADHD behavioral areas of concern. Some may only have problems with paying attention, while others may combine inattention with hyperactivity and impulsivity and risk-taking behavior.

ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, but it can continue throughout adulthood and can also be diagnosed for the first time in adulthood. ADHD can be treated through behavioral health interventions and medication.

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Symptoms Of ADHD

Many symptoms of ADHD are “normal” parts of behavior, but people who do not have ADHD can control them without needing professional intervention or treatment with medication. With ADHD, these symptoms occur frequently and can last for at least 6 months.

Signs of inattention include:

  • becoming quickly bored or distracted
  • frequent “daydreaming”
  • difficulty following directions or focusing on a single task

Symptoms of hyperactivity include:

  • fidgeting
  • squirming
  • non-stop talking
  • touching or playing with anything that is at hand

Symptoms that involve impulsivity include:

  • frequently interrupting others
  • acting with little regard for others in a given situation
  • impatience

Causes And Risk Factors

Research is ongoing to discover the exact causes of ADHD, but researchers have identified some risk factors and common elements among people with ADHD.

ADHD may have a genetic component, and several studies have shown that the condition can run in families. However, the precise relationship between genetics and ADHD has yet to be identified.

Environmental risk factors can also play a role in ADHD, including fetal exposure to environmental toxins, including:

  • cigarette smoking during pregnancy
  • alcohol use during pregnancy
  • lead exposure during pregnancy or childhood
  • low birth weight or premature birth

Some areas of the brain have been identified as influencing ADHD, including parts of the frontal lobe. These parts of the brain are responsible for memory, planning, decision-making, and the ability to pay attention and focus on tasks at hand.

The brains of children and adults with ADHD also have different levels of neurotransmitter chemicals in their brains, including norepinephrine and dopamine.

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

There is no single diagnostic test for ADHD. Instead, clinicians rely on a physical exam, information gathering (including medical, educational, social functioning, and family history), and ADHD rating scales. Clinicians may also administer psychological tests.

Whether diagnosed during childhood or adulthood, the diagnosis of ADHD is individualized. Diagnosticians will also seek to rule out neurological conditions or other illnesses that may cause the observed symptoms of ADHD.

Co-Occurring Conditions

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about two-thirds of children with ADHD also have co-occurring conditions. In both children and adults, these conditions can include:

  • conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder
  • learning disabilities
  • anxiety and depression
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • sleep disorders and bedwetting
  • substance use disorders (SUD)

Other neurological and medical conditions, like Tourette’s Syndrome and seizure disorders, can also co-occur with ADHD.

Treating ADHD

Treatment plans for ADHD can incorporate individual psychotherapy, education and skills training, and prescribed medication. Adults and children with ADHD can have treatment plans that include:

  • medication for ADHD, including stimulants and non-stimulants
  • behavioral therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • assistance with developing social, school, and work skills
  • family therapy or couples therapy (for adults)
  • stress management techniques
  • peer and family support groups

Adults with ADHD can benefit from professional counseling and therapy, as well as behavior management techniques. ADHD can’t be cured, but it can be treated and managed with success.