ADHD ADD Overview

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD often starts in early childhood. But an estimated 4% of adults have the condition—and many of them don't even realize it.

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ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a complex brain disorder that impacts approximately 11% of children and almost 5% of adults in the U.S. ADHD is a developmental impairment of the brain's executive functions. People with ADHD have trouble with impulse-control, focusing, and organization. While it's is considered to be a childhood condition that often subsides as individuals grow older, ADHD can continue to affect people well into adulthood. In fact, about one-third of those people who have ADHD continue to deal with the disorder's symptoms—think: impulsivity, poor time management skills, trouble focusing or multitasking—as they age.

What Is It

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders, and can often last through adolescence and into adulthood, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. An estimated 4.4% of adults have the condition, known for such symptoms as distractedness, restlessness and an inability to meet deadlines.


ADHD doesn't present the same way for everyone. The current thinking among mental health experts is that ADHD can be generally categorized into these three types:

1. Inattentive. Typical symptoms include disengagement, distractibility and forgetfulness.

2. Hyperactive-impulsive. Typical symptoms include restlessness, fidgeting, struggling with self-control.

3. Combination. Typical symptoms overlap with the two main ADHD types.

To determine which ADHD type you have, your doctor will discuss your symptoms and then advise a treatment plan.


If you suspect you have ADHD as an adult, an early history of ADHD symptoms that you might have experienced as a child, such as difficulty sitting still, paying attention to the teacher, and focusing on your work can confirm a diagnosis.The other most common symptoms of ADHD-related behaviors include procrastination, thrill seeking, losing things, having trouble finishing tasks, becoming easily distracted, and managing impulsive thoughts and behaviors.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) begins in childhood, although it is sometimes not recognized or diagnosed for many years. Scientists know that the disorder is largely genetic: A child who has ADHD has about a 30% to 40% chance of having a parent who has ADHD as well. However, doctors don't know exactly what genes cause the disorder.

Some environmental factors—such as drinking and smoking during pregnancy—seem to play a role as well. Other things that are associated with ADHD include maternal abandonment and maternal smoking. In addition, other possible risk factors to individuals include brain injury, low birth weight and premature delivery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


To identify ADHD, you'll want to note your symptoms, when you first started noticing them, and how long they've lasted. The next step? See a board-certified psychologist or psychiatrist who will fully evaluate you based on your self-reported symptoms and medical history. Because there is no blood test or X-ray that gives solid proof of its existence and ADHD symptoms can mimic those of both depression and anxiety—in that both can prompt an inability to concentrate or prompt fidgeting behaviors—some people may continue to have a hard time believing that ADHD is a real disorder, or that there is a medical cause for many of the disorder's symptoms.

Some individuals with ADHD find it helpful to work with an ADHD coach (either in addition to or instead of a therapist and/or medication), who teaches them specific strategies—such as time-management skills—to help manage life with ADHD.


After diagnosis, discuss treatment options with your doctor, especially to determine if you might benefit from medication.

There are a few options and including stimulant drugs as Adderall, Dexedrine, Ritalin, Concerta, and Vyvanse, which work to affect key brain chemicals that help people with ADHD stay calm and focus. These are the most widely prescribed ADHD medications. However, these drugs can also prompt side effects such as appetite suppression, insomnia, headaches, dry mouth, and nausea.

A non-stimulant drug called Strattera may be a better fit for people who have ADHD and who also suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or substance abuse. (However, again, the drug has side effects, such as nausea, dry mouth and insomnia.) Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help you manage symptoms. This type of therapy aims to help patients change their behavior by focusing on self-image and thought patterns, as well as overcoming obstacles in daily life (and negative thinking as well).Keep in mind that cognitive behavioral therapy might not take the place of medication or even help reduce the dosage, but this therapeutic option can help you feel more grounded and better able to stay focused.


While there is no way to prevent ADHD entirely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does warn that alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy can increase the chances of your child having ADHD.

The other risk factors associated with ADHD include eating an excessive amount of sugar, watching too much TV, poverty, family chaos, and certain parenting habits, the CDC notes. However, while these factors might make a child's ADHD worse, the evidence is not strong enough to conclude that they are the main causes of ADHD.

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