ADD vs. ADHD: Experts Explain the Difference Between the Two
Daydreaming, fidgeting, finding yourself easily distracted—they're all clear symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Or is it attention-deficit disorder (ADD)? Is there even a difference between the two?
The terms are often used interchangeably, but in reality, they're actually not the same thing—and that confusion stems from how experts have classified the neurodevelopmental disorder in the past.
A little history lesson: According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) first mentioned ADD, with or without hyperactivity, in 1980, even though it was known by other names before that. Then, in 1987, the name was changed from ADD to ADHD; but it was 1994 before the APA introduced the disorder with its current name: ADHD with three different types: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, and combined type.
That means ADHD is, essentially, a catch-all diagnosis for all different types of the disorder—and ADD, in particular, is a type of ADHD, Lenard Adler, MD, director of NYU Langone’s adult ADHD program, tells Health. "We call all attention-deficit disorders ADHD," he says; but we don’t call all ADHD cases ADD. "Everything is called ADHD," adds Michael Manos, PhD, head of the Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health at the Cleveland Clinic.
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So what’s the difference between ADD cases and other types of ADHD? One word: hyperactivity. Technically speaking, ADD is actually inattentive ADHD—which means the disorder manifests as a limited attention span, forgetfulness, or distractibility, without hyperactivity (fidgeting or constant movement).
It's also important to know that the types of ADHD aren't necessarily fixed diagnoses, meaning they are subject to change, per CHADD. That means even if someone is diagnosed with combination ADHD in childhood, it may not stay that way forever—especially since, according to the CDC, ADHD only persists into adulthood for one-third of patients with the disorder.
Luckily, those with ADHD—all types of it, including ADD—have many options for treatment. These treatment options are varied and include medication as well as lifestyle changes (think: a restructuring of the environment you live in). If ADHD ends up extending into adulthood, other treatment options could help, including psychotherapy, education and training, or a combination of treatments.
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