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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is one of the most common childhood behavioral disorders than can carry well into adolescence and adulthood. Individuals diagnosed with ADHD are inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive.  Over 6 million children are currently diagnosed with ADHD. The average age of onset is 7 years old. Boys are four times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls. Adults with ADHD have a 50 percent chance of having a child with ADHD.

ADHD is broken down into three subtypes, which include predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominantly inattentive and combined hyperactive-impulsive and attentive. The subtype in which one is diagnosed with depends on the way in which the condition presents itself.

What is the cause of ADHD?

Although the cause of ADHD is unknown, studies show that the following factors may potentially increase a person’s risk:

  • Genetics
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Brain injury
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Mother’s use of tobacco or alcohol while pregnant

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

ADHD is characterized by three main behaviors; inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.  Symptoms can vary within each subtype and it is important to note the specific symptoms associated with each behavior.

Individuals who exhibit symptoms of inattention may:

  • Become easily distracted
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Become bored easily
  • Have difficulty completing a task or learning something new
  • Be easily forgetful or lose things easily
  • Daydream
  • Appear to not be listening when spoken to
  • Be unable to follow directions correctly
  • Struggle to process information as quickly as others

Individuals who exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity may:

  • Appear fidgety and unable to sit still
  • Be talkative
  • Have difficulty keeping their hands to themselves
  • Be in constant motion
  • Appear restless
  • Be unable to complete quiet activities

Individuals who exhibit symptoms of impulsivity may:

  • Be impatient
  • Interrupt conversations
  • Have difficulty waiting their turn
  • Blurt out comments that are inappropriate and/or at inappropriate times
  • Lack control of their emotions
  • Show little concern for consequences

How is ADHD diagnosed?

There is no single test used to diagnose ADHD. In order for a person to be diagnosed with ADHD, he or she must show symptoms in multiple settings (such as home, school, childcare facility) for at least 6 months. Diagnosing ADHD in children differs in the methods used to diagnose the condition in an adult. One of the difficulties in diagnosing a child with ADHD is that is it often found occurring in conjunction with other coexisting conditions such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), mood disorders, anxiety disorders and learning disabilities.

For children, information is gathered from several sources — all those who interact with the child, such as parents, grandparents, friends, teachers and caregivers. Standardized rating scales, such as the Conners scale, are used to compare how the child in question’s behavior compares with other children that are the same age. Symptoms must be more severe for the child to be diagnosed with ADHD.  An educational evaluation performed by a school psychologist may also be used.

During the process of making a diagnosis, the child’s pediatrician will administer a physical exam including a comprehensive vision and hearing test. A full medical history on the child will also be recorded. The purpose of these exams is to rule out any other condition that may mimic the same symptoms of ADHD, as well as identify conditions that may be linked to ADHD-behaviors.  As part of the physical exam, the doctor may administer a Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment AID (NEBA). NEBA measures theta and beta brain waves in a noninvasive manner and is approved to use on children between ages 6 and 17. Children with ADHD show higher theta/beta ratios than children without.

Diagnosing ADHD in an adult is not quite as easy and symptoms can often be linked to other mental conditions such as depression and anxiety. Adults who suffer from ADHD may have difficulties with employment, poor organizational skills, chronic tardiness, restlessness, a short temper, lack of diligence when completing a task or difficulty controlling their behavior.

In order to make a proper diagnosis for an adult, symptoms should date back to childhood. The adult in question will undergo both neurological and psychological testing and require a physical exam. In addition, individuals who are close to the adult such as partner or friend may be interviewed as part of the process.

How is ADHD treated?

ADHD is treated with the use of medication and/or psychotherapy. Most of the time, medication and psychotherapy are used together to reduce symptoms of ADHD. In some cases only one of the methods may be used.

The most common type of medication used to treat ADHD is called a stimulant and, in spite of its name, creates a calming effect in patients with the condition.  Common forms of medications prescribed include Adderall, Concerta, Daytrana and Ritalin.

Some ADHD medications used are non-stimulants and work differently than stimulants.  Many medications used to treat ADHD have similar side effects, such as decreased appetite, sleep problems and irritability.

Psychotherapy is effective in helping a person to develop strategies to change his or her behavior. Psychotherapy can be effective in helping to improve organizational skills, help individuals to complete tasks and control emotions. Psychotherapy can also teach individuals, primarily children, how to develop proper social skills such as waiting their turn, asking for help, responding appropriately in social settings and exhibiting self control.

Although there is no cure for ADHD, treatment can successfully improve one’s condition and make it possible for the person to live a full and productive life.