What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic, neurodevelopmental disorder that is typically first diagnosed in children but usually continues into adulthood. People with this disorder tend to have problems with paying attention, being overly hyperactive, and/or exhibiting impulsive behavior. ADHD used to be known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), but that is now considered an outdated term.
Children who have ADHD may have difficulty with school and forming relationships. They may also have trouble with low self-esteem. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can be very helpful in managing the symptoms of ADHD and maximizing success throughout life. Symptoms can sometimes decrease as children get older but people typically do not ever get rid of all their symptoms. 
There are three subtypes of ADHD
  • Predominately inattentive presentation: People often use the term ADD to describe people with this subtype of ADHD. People with this subtype have a hard time paying attention and completing tasks. They are distracted easily and have difficulty following directions and paying attention to details. 
  • Predominately hyperactive/impulsive presentation: People with this subtype frequently act impulsively (without thinking). They have difficulty sitting still and tend to fidget and talk a lot. They are restless and may interrupt people and/or speak at inappropriate times without thinking. They have trouble with directions and patience. 
  • Combined presentation: People with this subtype have a combination of symptoms from each subtype. 
Risk factors
  • Having a blood relative with ADHD or another mental health condition
  • Premature birth
  • Using drugs, alcohol, or smoking during pregnancy
  • Environmental toxin exposure (such as lead) at a young age
  • Environmental toxin exposure during pregnancy
  • Low birth weight
  • Brain injuries
  • Gender (ADHD is more common in males)
The main symptoms of ADHD usually develop before the age of 12 and cause problems for children in school and at home. To diagnose ADHD, doctors will look at the criteria listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. Children must exhibit at least six symptoms of inattention and/or six symptoms of hyperactivity. The symptoms must also meet these three conditions:
  • The symptoms must cause problems 
  • The symptoms must cause problems in more than two settings
  • The symptoms must be present before the age of 12. 
There is not one definitive test that can provide a diagnosis of ADHD. Some tests and exams that might be done to diagnose this condition include:
  • Medical history and examination in order to rule out other causes for the behavior and assess symptom history. Observation of the child’s behavior will also often occur. 
  • Interviews with people that know the child well such as parents and teachers. This helps doctors know more about the child’s behavioral history and how they act in certain settings. 
  • ADHD rating scales to assess/evaluate the child’s behaviors and symptoms and their severity. 
  • Psychoeducational testing can be done to learn the child’s intellectual strengths/weaknesses and how they perform in school. 
There is no cure for ADHD. The main goal of treatment is to help relieve symptoms. Common treatments for ADHD include:
  • Stimulant medications
  • Antidepressants and other non-stimulant medications
  • Behavior therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Parenting skills training
  • School interventions
  • About 11% of children ages 4-17 have ADHD
  • Males are 2-3x more likely to have ADHD of the hyperactive or combined type than girls
  • In adulthood, ADHD symptoms are found equally in men and women
  • Symptoms of ADHD usually appear by age 7, but can appear earlier as well
about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • "Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Aug. 2017. Web. 17 Aug. 2017.
  • "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children.” | Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
  • “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health, Mar. 2016. Web. 17 Aug. 2017. 
  • “ADHD: The Facts.” Attention Deficit Disorder Association, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2017.
  • “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Cleveland Clinic, 18 Oct. 2016. Web. 17 Aug. 2017.
  • “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Basic Information.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Human Development and Disability, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 May. 2017. Web. 17 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Data & Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Human Development and Disability, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Jul. 2017. Web. 17 Aug. 2017. 


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