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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


Topic Overview

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition in which a person has trouble paying attention and focusing on tasks, tends to act without thinking, and has trouble sitting still. It may begin in early childhood and can continue into adulthood. Without treatment, ADHD can cause problems at home, at school, at work, and with relationships. In the past, ADHD was called attention deficit disorder (ADD).

What causes ADHD?

The exact cause is not clear, but ADHD tends to run in families.

What are the symptoms?

The three types of ADHD symptoms include:

  • Trouble paying attention. People with ADHD are easily distracted. They have a hard time focusing on any one task.
  • Trouble sitting still for even a short time. This is called hyperactivity. Children with ADHD may squirm, fidget, or run around at the wrong times. Teens and adults often feel restless and fidgety. They aren't able to enjoy reading or other quiet activities.
  • Acting before thinking. People with ADHD may talk too loud, laugh too loud, or become angrier than the situation calls for. Children may not be able to wait for their turn or to share. This makes it hard for them to play with other children. Teens and adults may make quick decisions that have a long-term impact on their lives. They may spend too much money or change jobs often.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

ADHD is often diagnosed when a child is between 6 and 12 years old. Teachers may notice symptoms in children who are in this age group.

First, the child will have tests to make sure that he or she doesn't have other problems such as learning disabilities, depression, or anxiety disorder. The doctor will use guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose ADHD. The doctor may also look at written reports about the child's behavior. Parents, teachers, and others who have regular contact with the child prepare these reports.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for ADHD, but treatment may help control the symptoms. Treatment may include medicines and behavior therapy. Parents and other adults need to closely watch children after they begin to take medicines for ADHD. The medicines may cause side effects such as loss of appetite, headaches or stomachaches, tics or twitches, and problems sleeping. Side effects usually get better after a few weeks. If they don't, the doctor can lower the dose.

Therapy focuses on making changes in the environment to improve the child's behavior. Often, counseling and extra support at home and at school help children succeed at school and feel better about themselves.

How does ADHD affect adults?

Many adults don't realize that they have ADHD until their children are diagnosed. Then they begin to notice their own symptoms. Adults with ADHD may find it hard to focus, organize, and finish tasks. They often forget things. But they also often are very creative and curious. They love to ask questions and keep learning. Some adults with ADHD learn to manage their lives and find careers that let them use those strengths.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about ADHD:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with ADHD:

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