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What is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behaviors. It used to be called attention deficit disorder (ADD). ADHD is common in children and adults. People who have ADHD have trouble paying attention at school, work, or home. Even when they try to concentrate, they find it hard to pay attention.
Most of what we hear about ADHD is how it affects children. However, adults can have ADHD as well. It is more common in males.
Symptoms of adult ADHD
Adults who have ADHD are more likely to be distracted, careless, or impulsive. Someone who finds it difficult to pay attention may have adult ADHD if they have 6 or more of the following symptoms.
- Has difficulty following instructions.
- Has difficulty focusing on activities at school, work, and/or home.
- Moves from one thing to another, sometimes without completing the first.
- Loses things often.
- Appears not to listen.
- Doesn’t pay close attention to details.
- Seems disorganized.
- Has trouble with tasks that require planning ahead.
- Forgets things.
- Is easily distracted.
Someone who is impulsive may have adult ADHD if they have the following symptoms.
- Makes decisions quickly, often without thinking them through.
- Interrupts people.
- Talks too much.
- Fidgets or can’t be still.
- Is always on the go.
- Is impatient or has trouble waiting their turn.
What causes adult ADHD?
People who have ADHD do not make enough chemicals in certain parts of the brain that help organize thoughts. This is thought to be the cause of ADHD. The shortage of chemicals may be due to a person’s genes. Research shows that ADHD is more common in people who have a close family member with the disorder. Recent research links smoking and other substance abuse during pregnancy to ADHD. Exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead, can also be a factor.
How is adult ADHD diagnosed?
A person diagnosed with ADHD will have had symptoms for at least 6 months. You may have had ADHD as a child, or it may have gone undiagnosed. Some adults who have ADHD may be diagnosed when they find out their children have ADHD.
Talk to your doctor if you notice ongoing signs of adult ADHD. They will discuss your symptoms, lifestyle, and overall health. In order to be diagnosed with adult ADHD, you must have had symptoms prior to age 12.
Can adult ADHD be prevented or avoided?
You cannot prevent or avoid adult ADHD.
Adult ADHD treatment
Adults who have ADHD can help manage symptoms. Treatment options include medicine, therapy, and/or lifestyle changes.
One type of medicine used to treat ADHD is called psychostimulants. This includes methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and a drug that combines dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. These medicines have a stimulating effect in most people. However, they have a calming effect in people who have ADHD. These medicines improve attention and concentration, and decrease impulsive and overactive behaviors. Your doctor may consider other non-stimulant medicines, such as atomoxetine, clonidine, desipramine, imipramine, or bupropion.
All medicines have side effects. Psychostimulants may decrease your appetite and cause a stomachache or a headache. The loss of appetite can cause unplanned weight loss in some people. This side effect seems to be more common in children. Some people have insomnia (trouble sleeping). Other possible side effects include fast heartbeat, chest pain, or vomiting. To avoid or reduce the side effects of psychostimulants, follow these tips:
- Use the lowest possible dose that still controls the hyperactivity or inattention. Your doctor will tell you the right dose.
- Take the medicine with food if it bothers your stomach.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Ask your doctor if you can skip taking medicine on the weekends.
- If you take a long-acting medicine, do not crush, break, or chew it before swallowing it.
It’s important to take the medicine the way your doctor prescribes it. Follow their advice, even if you think the medicine isn’t working. Medicines used to treat ADHD have been shown to improve a person’s ability to do specific tasks. This includes paying attention or having more self-control. The length of time a person will need to take medicine depends on each person. Some people only need to take medicine for 1 to 2 years. Others need treatment for many more years.
If your doctor thinks you have adult ADHD, they may suggest therapy. This could include individual counseling and/or support groups. Your doctor also may recommend testing and counseling with someone who specializes in treating ADHD. You can learn ways to change your work environment and keep distractions to a minimum. Organizational tools can help you learn how to focus on activities at work and at home. Many people who have ADHD find counseling helpful.
It is important to make some personal changes to help improve your condition. These may include:
- Setting a schedule and sticking to it. Having a set schedule can keep you organized, focused, and on track.
- Thinking before you act. If you know you tend to be impulsive, try to put more thought into decisions. Think about pros and cons, as well as possible risks or consequences. Think about how it could affect others, not just yourself.
- Maintaining a healthy, well-rounded routine. Try to be consistent with your diet, exercise, and sleep. Avoid substances or situations that trigger negative actions.
Living with adult ADHD
People who have ADHD should visit their doctor for regular checkups. A lifetime of ADHD behaviors can cause social problems, such as low self-esteem, trouble learning or working, and problems with relationships. ADHD can put you at risk of addiction. Some people who have ADHD may have problems sleeping or eating. They may have related health conditions as well. These could include:
- bipolar disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder(ODD)
- Tourette syndrome.
Questions to ask your doctor
- If I am diagnosed with ADHD as a child, will I have it as an adult?
- What medicine is best for me? What are its side effects?
- Will I always have to take medicine?
- Do I have to take the medicine consistently for it to work?
- Are there diet or lifestyle changes I can make to help with ADHD?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.