ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. People with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention, sitting still, and controlling impulsive behaviors. It is commonly treated with medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
The symptoms of ADHD can vary, but they generally fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Symptoms of inattention include:
- Difficulty paying attention to details or making careless mistakes
- Difficulty sustaining attention during tasks or play
- Not following through on instructions or finishing tasks
- Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Losing things like toys, assignments, and tools needed for tasks
- Being easily distracted
- Forgetfulness in daily activities
Symptoms of hyperactivity include:
- Fidgeting or squirming in seats
- Getting up and moving around frequently
- Running or climbing when it’s not appropriate
- Difficulty playing quietly or engaging in quiet leisure activities
- Always being on the go
- Talking excessively
Symptoms of impulsivity include:
- Acting without thinking
- Blurting out answers before questions have been completed
- Difficulty waiting for one’s turn
- Interrupting or intruding on others
- Little or no sense of danger
There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, but instead, it is diagnosed by a combination of methods including:
- A comprehensive evaluation by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician, psychiatrist, or psychologist.
- A thorough medical examination, including assessments for any other conditions that may be causing symptoms similar to ADHD.
- Behavioral assessments or rating scales are completed by parents, teachers, or other caregivers.
- A review of development, medical, and family history, as well as information about the individual’s symptoms, to assess the presence of symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
- In some cases, neuropsychological testing may be used to assess attention, memory, and learning abilities.
What causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is not known, but research suggests that it likely results from a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors.
Genetic Factors: ADHD tends to run in families, so researchers believe that the disorder has a genetic component. Studies of identical twins have shown that if one twin has ADHD, there is a higher chance the other twin will also have the disorder.
Environmental Factors: Some studies have suggested that exposure to certain toxins or substances during pregnancy or early childhood may increase the risk of developing ADHD. These include smoking, alcohol, and lead exposure.
Developmental Factors: Research also suggests that certain parts of the brain that control attention and activity levels may be less active in people with ADHD. Some studies have also shown that brain injury or certain infections may also increase the risk of ADHD.
What causes ADHD in the brain?
Research suggests that ADHD may be caused by imbalances or disruptions in the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain that help regulate attention, impulse control, and activity levels. Specifically, low levels of dopamine and norepinephrine are thought to play a role in the development of ADHD.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in motivation, reward, and attention. Studies have shown that people with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine in certain areas of the brain, which may contribute to symptoms of inattention and lack of motivation.
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in attention, arousal, and impulse control. Studies have suggested that people with ADHD have lower levels of norepinephrine in certain areas of the brain, which may contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Additionally, research suggests that the brain structure and function are slightly different in people with ADHD, particularly in areas of the brain responsible for attention and impulse control, such as the prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum.
The treatment of ADHD typically involves a combination of strategies, including medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Medication: The most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD are stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta. These medications help increase the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which can improve attention and impulse control. Non-stimulant medications such as Strattera may also be prescribed if stimulants aren’t effective or tolerated.
Therapy: Behavioral therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or parent-child interaction therapy, can be effective in treating ADHD. These therapies can help individuals with ADHD learn skills to manage symptoms, such as how to plan and organize tasks, improve time management and attention, and improve relationships with others.
Lifestyle Changes: Simple changes to the daily routine can also help reduce symptoms of ADHD. This includes regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy diet, and setting up a structured environment for work and play.
Types of ADHD
ADHD is generally classified into three types, based on the predominant symptoms that a person experiences:
- Inattentive type: This type of ADHD is characterized by symptoms of inattention, such as difficulty paying attention to details, difficulty following instructions, and forgetfulness in daily activities. People with inattentive type ADHD may also be easily distracted and disorganized.
- Hyperactive-impulsive type: This type of ADHD is characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, such as fidgeting, difficulty sitting still, talking excessively, acting without thinking, and interrupting others. People with hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD may have trouble waiting for their turn and controlling their impulses.
- Combined type: This is the most common type of ADHD, characterized by symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.