Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition marked by unusually high activity levels, inattention, and impulsive behavior. Humans naturally experience moments where they’re unfocused and have fluctuating energy levels. People with ADHD experience these moments frequently, leading to negative impacts on their work, studies, relationships, and other aspects of their lives.
A person with ADHD typically finds it difficult to focus or stay on an activity for a significant length of time. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is when the individual has problems with inattention, but not hyperactivity or impulsiveness. The signs of ADD are less obvious and often go unnoticed.
ADHD affects people of all ages, with a 2016 survey showing 6.1 million children (9.4 percent ) in the United States diagnosed with the condition. Boys (12.9 percent ) are more likely to have ADHD than girls (5.6 percent ). ADHD also affects adults, with studies showing that about 2.5 percent of the US adult population have the condition.
ADHD is easily misunderstood and was originally known as hyperkinetic disorder. It was not recognized as an actual ailment till the 1960s. Researchers split the condition into two subtypes in 1980; ADD with hyperactivity and ADD without hyperactivity. By 1987, researchers unified the subtypes and changed the name to ADHD.
Causes of ADHD
Researchers can’t point to a specific cause for ADHD. Available research indicates that it originates in the brain and may be due to reduced levels of dopamine – a brain chemical that plays a role in regulating the movement of neural signals. Other studies show that people with ADHD may have less gray matter volume, affecting muscle control, speech, impulse control, and decision making.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing ADHD, including:
Research shows a strong connection between ADHD and specific genetic configurations. It runs in families, and children of parents with the condition are especially at risk of developing ADHD.
Smoking and Alcohol Use During Pregnancy
Pregnant women who smoke and use alcohol put their unborn babies at a high risk of developing many conditions. This study shows that prenatal exposure to alcohol and hard substances makes a baby more likely to have ADHD.
Exposure to Neurotoxins
Neurotoxic chemicals in the environment have been implicated in some neurodevelopmental conditions. Prolonged exposure to compounds like lead and organophosphates pesticides may play a role in causing hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity.
There are claims that some preservatives and chemicals in food contribute to ADHD. However, the research on these claims isn’t strong enough to make a definite conclusion.
There’s much misinformation regarding ADHD leading to wrong ideas about what may cause the condition. Activities like watching television and playing video games can worsen ADHD, but there’s no evidence to suggest that they cause ADHD directly.
Symptoms of ADHD
Symptoms are classified based on the type of ADHD the patient manifests. There are three types of ADHD based on manifestations. They are:
- Short attention span and distracted easily
- Forgetting and misplacing items easily
- Constantly changing activity or task
- Inability to stick to demanding or time-consuming activities
- General disorganized behavior
- Inability to concentrate or follow instructions
- Making careless mistakes frequently
- Fidgeting frequently
- Unable to wait their turn
- Acting impulsively (without thinking)
- Lacking or having little sense of danger
- Inability to sit still in quiet or calm environments
- Excessive talking and physical movement
- Inability to concentrate on a task
No single test can diagnose ADHD. A diagnosis is made using information from family, teachers, and contemporaries about observed symptoms over the past six months. The doctor may compare the symptoms to a standard checklist or rating scale to reach a definite diagnosis.
Combined Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive
Patients with combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive ADHD manifest inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. They’re impulsive, unable to focus, and have high energy and activity levels.
Other manifestations of ADHD may include:
Stimming is a type of self-stimulating behavior commonly seen in individuals with neurological conditions like autism and ADHD. They’re repetitive actions that aim to help stimulate visual, auditory, or other senses.
Stimming behaviors can be tapping, whistling, humming, fidgeting, nail-biting or hair-twirling. These are normal behaviors, but they can become harmful for people with ADHD, as they can manifest as head-banging, hair-pulling, scratching, or punching objects.
About half of individuals with ADHD may have challenges with motor control. These people may have difficulty with posture, balance, writing, catching objects, and general coordination.
ADHD in Adults
Many people associate ADHD with children, but lots of adults also have ADHD. It goes undiagnosed in many adults, hindering their chances of getting proper medical care. Up to 60 percent of individuals who have the condition as children still have symptoms as adults. About 2.5 percent of American adults have ADHD, affecting many aspects of their lives, including work and relationships.
Knowing the symptoms of ADHD can help adults seek treatment on time. The following are the most reported symptoms of ADHD in adults (source: StuffThatWorks):
- Difficulty focusing
- Difficulty/inability to concentrate
- Easily distracted
- Feeling depressed
Treatment of ADHD
ADHD is treated with one or a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Drugs for treating ADHD alter brain chemicals to help patients better deal with their symptoms. The drugs for treating ADHD are classified as stimulants or non-stimulants.
CNS Stimulants for ADHD
Stimulants work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The two most popular ADHD stimulants are Adderall and Ritalin.
Non-stimulants for ADHD
Non-stimulants are usually prescribed if a patient isn’t responding properly to stimulant medication. Drugs like Wellbutrin and Strattera increase brain norepinephrine levels.
Behavioral therapy attempts to help patients manage symptoms by discussing and devising strategies for dealing with the condition. Behavioral therapy for ADHD includes talk therapy and psychotherapy.
Other measures that may help individuals with ADHD include:
- Limiting screen time
- Exercising regularly
- Eating healthy meals
- Getting enough sleep
ADHD is a serious condition that severely impacts development, education, relationships, and achievement. Fortunately, proper treatment can significantly mitigate the effects of ADHD, allowing patients to live rich, fulfilling lives.