What is ADHD?
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), also popularly known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is a common childhood disorder marked by problems with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that may persist into adolescence and adulthood. Such behavioral problems are often typical in children, but in cases of ADHD, these symptoms are severe and interfere with daily functioning. As symptoms progress, they can translate into difficulty at home and school. In adults, these difficulties tend to be expressed at work and in interpersonal relationships. It is important to recognize that people with ADHD present differently.
Combined ADHD Type (most commonly diagnosed): Marked by symptoms of both hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention
Predominantly Inattentive ADHD Type: Marked by inattention and difficulties with focus and concentration
Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Type: Marked by symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity
Who Can HAVE ADHD?
While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) estimates that 3-7% of school-aged children are diagnosed with this disorder, more recent studies have estimated 8-10% of 4-18 year olds have ADHD. That translates roughly to between 5 and 6 million people. Around 4% of adults are estimated to have ADHD.
Children and adults from varying cultures, ages, and economic backgrounds are diagnosed with ADHD. Boys (13%) are more than twice as likely than girls (6%) to be diagnosed. This disparity in gender tends to even out between men and women in adulthood. The average age of onset is 7 years old.
Western countries seem to have a higher rate of reported ADHD prevalence which may be related to a difference in diagnostic practices as opposed to an inconsistency in clinical presentation.
What are the Symptoms of ADHD?
There are 2 main categories of symptoms related to ADHD: inattention and /or hyperactivity-impulsivity that must be present for at least 6 months.
Symptoms of Inattention ADHD Subtype
Inability to pay close attention, making careless mistakes at school, work, or in other activities
Failing to concentrate in play activities or tasks
Seeming not to listen when spoken to
Inability to complete instructions properly, finish school assignments, chores, or obligations at work
Inadequacy organizing activities
Avoidance of or disengagement from duties that call for continuous mental effort (homework, schoolwork)
Losing things frequently (toys, homework, books, etc.)
Being easily distracted
Being forgetful or absent-minded in daily tasks
Symptoms of Hyperactivty-Impulsivity ADHD Subtype
Persistent fidgeting, squirming in seat
Leaving seat in classroom or other settings in which expectations outline remaining seated
Constant running around, climbing, or related physical restlessness in inappropriate settings (this may present as inner feelings of restlessness in adolescents and adults)
Difficulty remaining quiet while playing
Displaying behaviors indicative of acting “motor-driven” or “always on the go”
Inability awaiting turn
Consistent interrupting of others (conversations, games, etc.)
Giving answers before questions have been completed
What Causes ADHD?
Although the exact causes of ADHD remain uncertain, nature and nurture both seem to play a role in its development. Studies indicate that ADHD is a highly heritable disorder. This means that a parent with ADHD is very likely (more than 50%) to have a child with ADHD. Pre/perinatal factors, such as maternal drinking, smoking, low birth-weight, and metabolic disorders, have also been linked to ADHD. Some theories suggest that sugar and food additives may aide in the development of or exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD. Family environment may also play a role in the onset of ADHD.
How does ADHD Affect the Brain?
Several neurotransmitters have been linked to ADHD. Different neurotransmitters are associated with the different subtypes. Variations in norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels are often found in people who have ADHD. These fluctuations can often be regulated by proper medication.
Treatment for ADHD
With proper treatment, children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD can manage their symptoms and learn how to improve daily functioning. Medication therapy has been found to be very effective in the treatment of ADHD. Depending on a person’s individual symptoms, several types of medications can be prescribed, including stimulants and non-stimulants. Psychotherapy, behavioral modification, educational interventions, and changes in diet and lifestyle, particularly in conjunction with medication, have also been shown to be effective.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of ADHD, please reach out to your primary care physician or a local mental health practitioner.