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ADHD: Symptoms, Signs, Treatment

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

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:

  • Anxiety
  • Different types of learning disabilities
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Autism spectrum

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.

Symptoms of ADHD

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:

  • Having a short attention span
  • Being easily distracted
  • Forgetfulness, losing, or misplacing things
  • Inability to stick to the tedious or time-consuming task
  • Careless mistakes in schoolwork or other daily tasks
  • Inability or struggling to carry out multi-step processes
  • Constantly changing tasks or activities
  • Fidgeting, inability to remain still
  • Disorganization
  • The inability to concentrate on tasks
  • Excessive physical movement
  • Excessive or pressured talking
  • Impulsiveness
  • Difficulty waiting
  • Acting without thinking through potential consequences

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.

Differences in ADHD in Adults

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.

Types of ADHD

ADHD is divided into three major types:

  • ADHD, combined type: The most common type of ADHD is characterized by inattention and distractability along with inattion, and often, impulsivity.
  • ADHD, inattentive, and distractable: ADHD that is characterized predominantly by distractibility and inattention without hyperactivity.
  • ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive: This is the least common type of ADHD. The primary characteristics are hyperactive and impulsive behaviors without inattention.

Treatment Options for ADHD

There are a number of treatment options for ADHD. Your or your child’s doctor will make treatment recommendations based on:

  • The extent of the symptoms
  • Age, medical history, and overall health
  • Expectations for the course of treatment

Treatment options include:

  • Psychostimulant medications—Medications such as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall can help balance chemicals in the brain that make it difficult to maintain attention and control impulses. There are a wide array of medications, and it is essential that you work closely with your doctor to find the right choice for you or your child.
  •  Behavior management—psychosocial treatments are essential to reduce stress on families. There are behavior management classes available for parents, or your health care provider can help you determine the appropriate system.
  • Psychotherapy—Psychotherapy, often in addition to medication, can be invaluable to adults and children with ADHD.


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