The term ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, long ago entered people’s vocabulary. You hear it tossed around schools a lot by teachers. However, there’s a general misunderstanding of what attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is, who it affects, and how it can be treated.
Reaching a diagnosis of Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a multi-step process. There is no single test that definitively diagnoses ADHD. To further complicate the diagnostic process, many other issues can have very similar symptoms. Issues that can mimic ADHD include:
If you suspect ADHD, the diagnosis can be made by a mental health care professional or a primary care provider. Patients often discuss the diagnosis with their primary care provider, who will then refer to them the appropriate mental health care provider.
There’s a tendency to think of ADHD as just a kid’s “inability to focus.” The fact is, research has repeatedly proved that ADHD can actually be seen in a person’s brain. MRIs show the differences between a person’s brain without ADHD and one who does have the condition. It’s real, it affects both old and young, and it’s frustrating, especially when people keep dismissing it out of hand as something less than concrete.
There is a range of symptoms associated with ADHD, and they can vary significantly between children and adults. The symptoms broadly span inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Signs and symptoms include:
Everyone, especially children, will experience some of these signs at some point in their life. However, with ADHD, the symptoms cause lasting repercussions. A child or adult with ADHD may have school problems, underachievement, poor social skills, and difficulty following rules.
The symptoms of ADHD are more difficult to define and notice in adults. Adults with the disorder have developed coping skills throughout their lives to mask the signs of ADHD, making a diagnosis more challenging.
ADHD presents in childhood, so if it remains untreated, it will progress into adulthood. Comorbidities such as depression and dyslexia may also persist into adulthood. The significant symptoms of inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity will present differently in adults and often tend to be far more subtle.
The first step to helping patients with ADHD is a thorough evaluation. We’ll discuss your history, both medical and personal, including any medications you have taken for ADHD or therapy you have undergone. By the end of this evaluation, once we have confirmed your ADHD diagnosis, we may prescribe medication. ADHD is proven to respond very well to medication, so long as treatment is monitored. We will clearly explain what ADHD is and teach you coping strategies. Additionally, we will schedule follow-up appointments and monitor your progress, adjust your medication as needed, and offer appropriate lifestyle advice to further help you minimize your ADHD symptoms.
The criteria for diagnosis include the two main categories of inattention combined with hyperactivity and impulsivity. The same criteria are used in adults but can look different than the symptoms manifest in children.
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
Children and adults will rarely display all the symptoms, but the symptoms must be present before the age of 12. Symptoms must also be present in at least two settings, such as at home and work. For a formal diagnosis, symptoms must also reduce or inhibit functionality at work, school, or social situations. Other mood disorders do not better explain symptoms before a diagnosis of ADHD is given.
ADHD is divided into three major types:
There are a number of treatment options for ADHD. Your or your child’s doctor will make treatment recommendations based on:
Treatment options include:
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