What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that can cause unusual levels of hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time.
Many people experience inattention and changes in energy levels. For a person with ADHD, this happens more often and to a greater extent compared with people who don’t have the condition. It can have a significant effect on their studies, work, and home life.
Both adults and children can have ADHD. It’s a diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Learn about types of ADHD and symptoms in both children and adults.
A wide range of behaviors are associated with ADHD. Some of the more common ones include:
- having trouble focusing or concentrating on tasks
- being forgetful about completing tasks
- being easily distracted
- having difficulty sitting still
- interrupting people while they’re talking
Signs and symptoms can be specific to different aspects of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, or difficulty focusing.
A person who is experiencing hyperactivity and impulsivity may:
- find it difficult to sit still or remain seated, for example, in class
- have trouble playing or carrying out tasks quietly
- talk excessively
- find it hard to wait their turn
- interrupt others when they’re speaking, playing, or carrying out a task
Someone who is having difficulty focusing might:
- make frequent mistakes or miss details when studying or working
- find it hard to maintain focus when listening, reading, or holding a conversation
- have trouble organizing their daily tasks
- lose items frequently
- be easily distracted by small things happening around them
If you or your child has ADHD, you may have some or all of these symptoms. The symptoms you have will depend on the type of ADHD you have. Explore a list of ADHD symptoms common in children.
To make ADHD diagnoses more consistent, the APA has grouped the condition into three categories, or types. These types are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactivity-impulsive, and a combination of both.
As the name suggests, people with this type of ADHD have extreme difficulty focusing, finishing tasks, and following instructions.
Experts also think that many children with the inattentive type of ADHD may not receive a proper diagnosis because they don’t tend to disrupt the classroom. ResearchTrusted Source suggests this is more common among girls with ADHD.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type
People with this type of ADHD primarily show hyperactive and impulsive behavior. This can include:
- interrupting people while they’re talking
- not being able to wait their turn
Although inattention is less of a concern with this type of ADHD, people with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may still find it difficult to focus on tasks.
Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type
This is the most common type of ADHD. People with this combined type of ADHD display both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. These include an inability to pay attention, a tendency toward impulsiveness, and above-average levels of activity and energy.
The type of ADHD you or your child has will determine how it’s treated. The type you have can change over time, so your treatment may change, too. Learn more about the three types of ADHD.
Despite how common ADHD is, doctors and researchers still aren’t sure what causes the condition. It’s believed to have neurological origins. Genetics may also play a role.
ResearchTrusted Source suggests that a reduction in dopamine is a factor in ADHD. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that helps move signals from one nerve to another. It plays a role in triggering emotional responses and movements.
Other researchTrusted Source suggests a structural difference in the brain. Findings indicate that people with ADHD have less gray matter volume. Gray matter includes the brain areas that help with:
- decision making
- muscle control
Researchers are still studying potential causes of ADHD, such as smoking during pregnancy. Find out more about the potential causes and risk factors of ADHD.
There’s no single test that can tell if you or your child has ADHD. A 2017 studyTrusted Source highlighted the benefits of a new test to diagnose adult ADHD, but many clinicians believe an ADHD diagnosis can’t be made based on one test.
To make a diagnosis, a doctor will assess any symptoms you or your child has had over the previous 6 months.
Your doctor will likely gather information from teachers or family members and may use checklists and rating scales to review symptoms. They’ll also do a physical exam to check for other health problems. Learn more about ADHD rating scales and what they can and cannot do.
If you suspect that you or your child has ADHD, talk with a doctor about getting an evaluation. For your child, you can also talk with their school counselor. Schools regularly assess children for conditions that may be affecting their educational performance.
For the assessment, provide your doctor or counselor with notes and observations about you or your child’s behavior.
If they suspect ADHD, they may refer you or your child to an ADHD specialist. Depending on the diagnosis, they may also suggest making an appointment with a psychiatrist or neurologist.
Treatment for ADHD typically includes behavioral therapies, medication, or both.
Types of therapy include psychotherapy, or talk therapy. With talk therapy, you or your child will discuss how ADHD affects your life and ways to help you manage it.
Another therapy type is behavioral therapy. This therapy can help you or your child learn how to monitor and manage your behavior.
Medication can also be very helpful when you’re living with ADHD. ADHD medications are designed to affect brain chemicals in a way that enables you to better control your impulses and actions.
The two main types of medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants and nonstimulants.
Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are the most commonly prescribed ADHD medications. These drugs work by increasing the amounts of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine.
If stimulants don’t work well or cause troublesome side effects for you or your child, your doctor may suggest a nonstimulant medication. Certain nonstimulant medications work by increasing levels of norepinephrine in the brain.
These medications include atomoxetine (Strattera) and some antidepressants such as bupropion (Wellbutrin).
ADHD medications can have many benefits, as well as side effects. Learn more about medication options for adults with ADHD.
Natural remedies for ADHD
In addition to — or instead of — medication, several remedies have been suggested to help improve ADHD symptoms.
For starters, making lifestyle changes may help you or your child manage ADHD symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommends the following:
- eating a nutritious, balanced diet
- getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day
- getting plenty of sleep
- limiting daily screen time from phones, computers, and TV
Avoiding certain allergens and food additives are also potential ways to help reduce ADHD symptoms. Learn more about these and other nondrug approaches to addressing ADHD.
You may have heard the terms “ADD” and “ADHD” and wondered what the difference is between them.
ADD, or attention deficit disorder, is an outdated term. It was previously used to describe people who have problems paying attention but are not hyperactive. The type of ADHD called “predominantly inattentive” is now used in place of ADD.
ADHD is the current overarching name of the condition. The term ADHD became official in May 2013 when the APA released the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).”
This manual is what doctors refer to when making diagnoses for mental health conditions. Get a better understanding of the difference between ADD and ADHD.
More than 60 percent of children with ADHD still show symptoms as adults. For many people, hyperactivity symptoms often decrease with age, but inattentiveness and impulsivity may continue.
That said, treatment is important. Untreated ADHD in adults can have a negative impact on many aspects of life. Symptoms such as trouble managing time, forgetfulness, and impatience can cause problems at work, home, and in all types of relationships.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, around 8.8 percent of people aged 3 to 17 years in the United States have had a diagnosis of ADHD at some time. This includes 11.7 percent of males and 5.7 percent of females.
For children, ADHD is generally associated with problems at school. Children with ADHD often have difficulties in a controlled classroom setting.
Boys are more than twice as likelyTrusted Source as girls to receive an ADHD diagnosis. This may be because boys tend to exhibit hallmark symptoms of hyperactivity. Although some girls with ADHD may have the classic symptoms of hyperactivity, many do not.
In many cases, girls with ADHD may:
- daydream frequently
- be hyper-talkative rather than hyperactive
Many symptoms of ADHD can be typical childhood behaviors, so it can be hard to know what’s ADHD-related and what’s not. Learn more about how to recognize ADHD in toddlers.
While ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it’s not considered a learning disability. However, ADHD symptoms can make it harder for you to learn. Also, it’s possible for ADHD to occur in some people who also have learning disabilities.
To help relieve any impact on learning for children, teachers can map out individual guidelines for a student with ADHD. This may include allowing extra time for assignments and tests or developing a personal reward system.
Although it’s not technically a learning disability, ADHD can have lifelong effects. Learn more about the potential impacts of ADHD on adults and children and resources that can help.
People with ADHD can find it hard to keep up with daily tasks, maintain relationships, and so on. This can increase the risk of anxiety.
People with ADHD are also more likely to experience an anxiety disorder than those without ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source.
Anxiety disorders include:
- separation anxiety, when you are afraid of being away from loved ones
- social anxiety, which can make you afraid of going to school or other places where people socialize
- generalized anxiety, when you’re afraid of bad things happening, of the future, and so on
If you or your child has ADHD, you’re more likely to have depression as well. In one study, around 50 percent of adolescents had major depression or an anxiety disorder, compared with 35 percent of those without ADHD. Studies suggest that up to 53.3 percentTrusted Source of adults with ADHD may also have depression.
This may feel like an unfair double whammy, but know that treatments are available for both conditions. In fact, the treatments often overlap. Talk therapy can help treat both conditions. Also, certain antidepressants, such as bupropion, can sometimes help ease ADHD symptoms.
Of course, having ADHD doesn’t guarantee you’ll have depression, but it’s important to know it’s a possibility. Find out more about the link between ADHD and depression.
Conduct and behavior disorders
Behavior and conduct problems are more commonTrusted Source among children with ADHD than those without. These disorders can arise when a person does not feel understood by those around them.
Someone who doesn’t feel understood may argue a lot, lose their temper, or purposely annoy others. These may be signs of oppositional defiant disorder.
Some people find they cannot help breaking rules or behaving aggressively toward others, maybe fighting, bullying, or perhaps taking things that do not belong to them. This is called conduct disorder.
Treatment is available for people who face these challenges, but experts recommend starting early and making sure the treatment fits the needs of the person and their family.
Some children with ADHD have a learning disorder that makes it additionally hard to carry out their study tasks. Examples include dyslexia, which makes reading difficult, or problems with numbers or writing.
These challenges can make it very hard for a child to manage at school, and they can worsen feelings of anxiety and depression. Getting help early is essential to try to minimize the impact of these challenges.
If you or your child has ADHD, a consistent schedule with structure and regular expectations may be helpful. For adults, some ways to help you stay organized are:
- making lists
- keeping a calendar
- setting reminders
For children, it can be helpful to focus on writing down homework assignments and keeping everyday items, such as toys and backpacks, in assigned spots.
Learning more about the disorder in general can also help you learn how to manage it. Organizations like Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or the Attention Deficit Disorder Association provide tips for management as well as the latest research.
Your doctor can provide more guidance in ways to manage your ADHD symptoms. Here are tips for helping your child with ADHD.
For children and adults, untreated ADHD can have a serious impact on your life. It can affect school, work, and relationships. Treatment is important to lessen the effects of the condition.
If you think you or your child may have ADHD, your first step should be talking with a doctor if possible. They can help determine if ADHD is a factor for you or your child. Your doctor can help you create a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and live well with ADHD.