What is ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)?

Photo of author
Written By hareesh

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental illness that causes problems with inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It can interfere with daily life. ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way the brain functions. It usually begins during the child’s developmental phase. Around 5% of children in school age are affected.

ADHD can also be diagnosed in adults. Two-thirds or more of children who have ADHD still experience symptoms in adulthood.

ADHD symptoms are caused by differences in the brain.

Verywell / Laura Porter

This article describes the symptoms of ADHD. This article also covers the causes, diagnosis and treatment options of this condition.

What are the signs and symptoms of ADHD?

ADHD children have greater difficulty focusing and paying attention than other children. Some children with ADHD may find it difficult to sit still, and they may also act impulsively. It can be difficult for them to get along with others and learn in certain settings.

ADHD can affect relationships, job performance, and quality of life. Adults may experience the same restlessness as children.

ADHD symptoms vary depending on the type. However, most children and adolescents with ADHD will exhibit some of these:4

Frequent forgetfulness

Listening to the world and daydreaming

Problems staying on task


Avoiding tasks that require concentration

Fidgeting and squirming are symptoms of trouble sitting still

Excessive talking

Risky behavior

Lack of care or attention to detail

Making mistakes is a pattern

Children who have trouble getting along with each other

Difficulty in taking turns

What are the differences between ADD and ADHD?

Adults may experience different presentations of ADHD: inattentive, impulsive/hyperactive, or a combination of both.5 Symptoms of ADHD may present differently in adulthood, with less hyperactivity being common.6

Types of ADHD

DSM-5 defines ADHD in three ways.

Presenting a Presentation that is Mostly Inattentive

People with a predominant inattentive form of ADHD have difficulty with concentration and attention. It may result in a tendency not to pay attention to details or complete tasks.

The child must show at least six symptoms (or five for adults and adolescents older than 17 years old):

Trouble paying attention when performing tasks or playing activities

Careless mistakes are made frequently

Forgetting daily tasks is a common occurrence

You are easily distracted

When spoken to directly, it appears that the person is not listening.

Forgetful of daily tasks

Has difficulty following through on tasks or homework

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation

This presentation of ADHD can make people appear to be impulsive or energized, and have a hard time sitting still. Fidgeting and interrupting lessons or conversations are common tendencies.

The child must have at least six symptoms (five in adolescents and adults older than 17 years old). The following symptoms are included:

Fidgeting or tapping the hands or feet is a common habit.

When asked to remain seated, the person will often get up or leave.

Inappropriately run or climb often

Feeling restless, agitated or apathetic

Many people are unable to relax or engage in quiet activities

Often talks non-stop

In conversations, people often blurt out answers before the full question is asked.

Difficulty in taking turns

Interrupts conversation when others are talking

Combination Presentation

A combined presentation is a term used to describe people with ADHD who exhibit both aspects. Inattentiveness and hyperactivity may be present.

Both criteria must be met to make a diagnosis for a combined presentation. In addition,

The symptoms must last at least six month

The symptoms must be disruptive at work, in school or socially

The symptoms are not appropriate for the individual’s development level

Body Doubling and ADHD

What causes ADHD?

There is no clear cause of ADHD, but research suggests genetics may play a role.

The following factors may also be associated with ADHD:

Brain injury

Environment conditions that affect fetal development and early life such as lead exposure

Alcohol or tobacco use during pregnancy

Low birth weight or premature delivery

Many myths regarding the causes of ADHD have been disproven. Some of these myths include excessive sugar consumption, excessive television viewing, poverty, and family turmoil. These factors can worsen ADHD symptoms, but they don’t cause the condition.

A new study reveals genetic differences between black and white children with ADHD

How is ADHD diagnosed?

ADHD is diagnosed by the presence of specific symptoms. The diagnosis is usually made by a diagnostic interview, but may also include other screenings and psychological tests. Evaluations can be performed by primary care providers, mental health professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, or neurologists.

The practitioner can interview the parents, teachers and other adults that provide care to the child when diagnosing the condition. They can then consider the child’s behaviour in various settings.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual DSM-5 will determine if a diagnosis of ADHD is made. This manual is used by mental health professionals and healthcare practitioners to evaluate a person’s symptoms.

Criteria for diagnosing ADHD vary depending on its type. However, in order to diagnose ADHD of any kind, the person undergoing evaluation must:

Several hyperactive-impulsive or inattentive symptoms before age 12

At least two different settings (such as school and home) can present with the same symptoms

They have demonstrated that their symptoms affect their ability to function socially, at school or in the workplace.

You have ruled out other mental disorders that could be the cause

An individual with ADHD must show an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity and these symptoms must interfere with their quality of life.6

ADHD symptoms in boys and girls are different.

As children age, it is common for their symptoms to change.

Differential Diagnosis

A number of conditions can be mistaken as ADHD. These must be ruled out before a diagnosis can be made, including:

Sleep disorders or conditions that affect your sleep quality

Anxiety disorders are a grouping of mental conditions that involve excessive worry and fear.

Mental health disorders that include mood disorders and accompanying symptoms

Learning disorders

Hearing and vision problems

Use Differential Diagnosis To Confirm Your Illness

ADHD in Adults

ADHD is often associated with children, as many of the symptoms can be seen in childhood or at school. ADHD affects all ages. Adults are most likely to present with inattentive symptoms.10 The same treatment is effective for both adults and children, but it’s individualized.

Existing conditions

Over half of those with ADHD have a mental illness.

What is the treatment for ADHD?

ADHD is usually treated by medication or behavioral therapy. In children aged 4 to 5 years, the first treatment line is typically behavior-based and involves parents before medication is attempted.

ADHD Medication

Stimulants are available in short-acting, intermediate-acting and long acting forms. There are three types of stimulant medications:13

Ritalin, Adderall and other psychostimulants like methylphenidate (methylphenidate), can improve or reduce ADHD symptoms. According to some studies, stimulants can improve ADHD symptoms for approximately 70% of adults as well as 70% to 80% in children.

The non-stimulant medications like Strattera, Intuniv, and Kapvay can be prescribed as a stand-alone medication to treat ADHD. They may also be prescribed with other medications.

Combining psychostimulants with non-stimulant drugs can be more effective than using either alone.

The most common side effects are mild. Some of them subside once the medication is taken for some time. If side effects do not subside, the prescribing doctor may reduce the dosage or prescribe a different medication.

The following are side effects of stimulant ADHD medications:

Insomnia or sleep problems

Loss of appetite

Weight loss

Angry or nervousness

Swings in mood

Headaches and stomachaches

Other less common stimulant side effects include:18

The medication has a rebound effect that causes hyperactivity or moodiness to increase.

Tics or repetitive muscle movements, such as blinking the eyes,

Minor delay in normal growth pattern

Lifestyle Changes

There are a number of lifestyle choices that can positively impact ADHD symptoms. These include:

Researchers are learning about the effects of screen time on ADHD. New evidence suggests that screen time is a risk factor in developing ADHD.

Increase Physical Activity. Increasing physical activity is a great way to improve ADHD symptoms, such as inattention, executive function, and decreased hyperactivity.

Improve Sleep: Problems sleeping may be a sign of ADHD or as a side-effect of some medications used to treat ADHD. ADHD symptoms can be reduced by making lifestyle changes based on evidence. Some of the evidence-based methods to improve sleep are melatonin, weighted sheets, and light therapy.

You can manage ADHD symptoms by eating well. Meal prepping and planning can ensure that you always have healthy foods on hand. Some small studies suggest that adequate amounts of Vitamin D and iron, zinc and polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce ADHD symptoms. More research is required.

Time management is a skill that can be difficult for people with ADHD. However, it is important. Students with ADHD are known to work harder and longer than their peers.25 It is therefore important to discuss a time management plan with a behavioral healthcare provider.

Behavioral Therapy

ADHD can be treated with a variety of behavioral treatments, including

Behavior modification: Strategies that are based on the child’s symptoms and aim to increase desired behaviors and decrease unwanted behaviors

Parental training that promotes the healthy development of the child and the relationship between parent and child.

Social skills training: Creates a safe learning environment where a child can learn how to be a good friend to other children at school, and to family members at home.

School interventions: A trained professional can work with teachers and school counselors in order to develop a plan for implementing classroom intervention as needed.

Training in organizational skills: Designed to teach older children time management and organization skills at school.

Alternative and Complementary Treatments

Many alternative and complementary therapies claim to be effective in treating ADHD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that many of these treatments have not been proven to be safe or effective.

Some examples of complementary or alternative treatments for ADHD which need further research include:

Brain gym is a program of movement that promises to improve the brain’s performance.

Luminosity is a program with games that are said to improve focus and memory.

Cogmed is a program that has been shown to improve working memory for children with ADHD

Omega-3 fish oil supplements may help those with mild ADHD symptoms, as well those who don’t respond well to stimulant medications26.

Massage Therapy

Mindfulness is the practice of mindfulness, being present in yourself and tuning into your inner self.

The use of biofeedback or neurofeedback to show brain activity in real time and activate other areas of the brain27

Sensory-motor therapy is an intervention that aims to increase body and sensory awareness as well as balance and coordination28.

Eye tracking or eye movement training is a training method that aims to improve your self-control29.

Research has shown that some alternative treatments are effective when combined with a multimodal treatment, which is a combination of several treatment methods.

Be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any new treatment.

ADHD Treatments that are Potentially Harmful

Speak to your doctor before trying any alternative treatments for ADHD. Alternative treatments for ADHD can be harmful and can even interfere with the prescribed treatment.

Megavitamins linked to liver damage

Herbal supplements with limited evidence may have side effects

Restricted diets have a poor success rate, and can negatively impact nutrition needs

Evidence for anti-motion sickness treatments is limited.

Common risks of untreated ADHD in adults

What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

ADD (attention-deficit disorders) is a term which is no longer used. The term ADHD has been adopted.

What are some tips for coping with ADHD?

Adolescents and children with ADHD face unique challenges. It’s vital that you as a parent learn how to help your child with ADHD. You should also seek support if you need it. Helpguide.org has more information about parenting tips.

You and your child can benefit from seeking professional help as soon as you can. This will help you to feel more supported and understand the unique challenges that ADHD brings.

Leave a Comment