ADD vs. ADHD: Experts Explain the Difference Between the Two

No, they aren't *totally* the same.

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. Here's more about ADD and ADHD.

The History of ADD and ADHD

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.

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, told Health. "We call all attention-deficit disorders ADHD," Dr. Adler said; but we don't call all ADHD cases ADD. "Everything is called ADHD," added Michael Manos, PhD, head of the Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health at the Cleveland Clinic.

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

The signs of ADHD can be found in their entirety in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR). Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms fall into two major categories: inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity. For any of the types, six or more symptoms are required for a diagnosis in children up to 16 years of age or five or more symptoms in individuals 17 years of age and older.

In the case of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, the symptoms have to be developmentally inappropriate and disruptive of life functioning (e.g., socially, academically, or professionally), have been present for six months or longer for any age, and present in two or more settings. Additionally, according to the American Psychiatric Association, the symptoms should also be present before the age of 12.

Additionally, ADHD has three different types: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, and combined type. 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). Therefore, the occurrence of hyperactivity differentiates between cases of what would be ADD and ADHD.

ADHD can only be diagnosed and treated by trained healthcare professionals. 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,

Finally, ADHD only persists into adulthood for one-third of patients with the disorder. Still, it's important to know that symptoms of ADHD in adults may not look like typical symptoms (e.g., hyperactivity presenting as restlessness, per the CDC).

How Is ADHD Treated?

Luckily, those with ADHD have a number of treatment options. The CDC says that, for children, treatment can entail behavioral therapy and medications.

Behavioral therapy might consist of parental behavioral management training, child behavioral therapy, and classroom behavioral interventions. Of note, behavioral therapy is utilized before medication for children under six years of age, per the CDC.

Additionally, medications might consist of stimulants or non-stimulants. The difference between the types is that stimulants work faster and are most commonly used. Still, the purpose of either medication is to assist in the management of ADHD symptoms in different areas of an individual's life.

Other methods that may be helpful for parents of children with ADHD, according to the CDC, include creating routines, managing distractions, limiting choices, and using goals and praise or other rewards.

If ADHD extends into adulthood, other treatment options could help like psychotherapy, education and training, or a combination of treatments, the CDC says.

A Quick Review

ADD and ADHD are related; however, ADHD has become the preferred name as ADD is no longer used by name as a diagnosis. Based on the presentation of ADHD symptoms, there are three types of the disorder—namely inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, and combined type. However, symptoms of ADHD can appear differently depending on a person's age. Still, treatment for individuals of all ages with ADHD generally entails the use of medication or behavioral therapy. Furthermore, only healthcare professionals can confirm the diagnosis for and treat someone who has ADHD.

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