Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a medical condition that affects millions of people in the U.S. ADHD is usually first diagnosed in childhood (and is more common in boys than girls) but often lasts through adulthood.
People with ADHD may have symptoms of inattention (having difficulty staying focused and organized), hyperactivity (moving or talking excessively; fidgeting), and impulsivity (acting without thinking).
ADHD is commonly treated with prescription medication, therapy, and behavioral or educational interventions.
People with ADHD may have symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity, or both. Symptoms can be severe, occur often, and interfere with school, work, and quality of life.
Symptoms of inattention may include:
- Making careless mistakes at school or work
- Having difficulty paying attention and focusing
- Finding it difficult to follow through or finish work or schoolwork
- Losing focus and becoming easily distracted
- Having trouble organizing activities, meeting deadlines, and managing time
- Avoiding tasks that require effort, such as homework or projects
- Losing task-related items like pencils and paperwork
- Being forgetful in daily activities such as returning phone calls or keeping doctor’s appointments
Symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity may include:
- Fidgeting excessively
- Being unable to stay seated at school or work
- Feeling restless or running around at inappropriate times
- Being unable to play quietly
- Moving around constantly, acting as if powered by a motor
- Talking excessively
- Speaking without waiting/having difficulty waiting
- Interrupting others
What Causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is not known. While genetics are thought to play a role, there is not a specific gene that is known to cause ADHD. Often, ADHD runs in families. Other components may contribute to ADHD, including differences in brain structure, brain injury, low birth weight or premature birth, and exposure to alcohol, smoking, or lead during pregnancy.
And despite what well-meaning family members may say, ADHD is not caused by eating sugar, watching too much TV, or other social factors (although many things, such as these, may worsen ADHD symptoms).
When to See a Doctor
If you or your child is experiencing symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity that interfere with work or school, it is a good idea to see a healthcare provider.
How is ADHD Diagnosed?
To diagnose ADHD, healthcare providers use guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Using the same standard for diagnosis helps ensure patients are appropriately diagnosed and treated. These guidelines help the healthcare provider evaluate the patients for patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The healthcare provider will also perform an exam, including hearing and vision tests, to rule out other medical conditions with similar symptoms. The provider will also take a detailed medical history and family history.
How is ADHD Treated?
Although there is no cure for ADHD, healthcare providers generally recommend a combination of prescription medication, therapy, and behavioral or educational interventions.
Natural ADHD Treatment
Although not a substitute for other recommendations from your healthcare provider
(such as medication, therapy, and other interventions), there are some natural methods you or your child can try, along with recommended treatment. Examples include:
- Maintaining a healthy diet, incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Participating in daily physical activity.
- Limiting screen time.
- Getting enough high-quality sleep.
Additional tips that parents can help children with include:
- Keep the same routine every day, even on weekends. Include time for homework and outdoor activities. Post the schedule so your child can see it.
- Have a designated place for all items (clothing, toys, shoes) and keep everything in its place.
- Encourage your child to write down assignments in organizers.
- Give clear and consistent rules.
- Be generous with praise for good behavior.
Adults with ADHD may benefit from a counselor who can help with organization. Some tips include:
- Maintain a routine.
- Make lists of things that need to be done.
- Use a calendar and notes to keep track of events and reminders.
- Keep everyday items, like keys and purses, in their place.
- Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
ADHD medications are classified as stimulant drugs or nonstimulant drugs.
- Stimulants: Stimulants, or central nervous system (CNS) stimulants, are the most commonly prescribed type of medication used for treating ADHD symptoms. Stimulants work by increasing chemicals in the brain called dopamine and norepinephrine, which help the patient with focus and attention. Stimulants are controlled substances because they have a high potential for abuse and dependence. Examples of commonly prescribed stimulants include Adderall, Adderall XR, Concerta, and Vyvanse.
- Nonstimulants: Other ADHD drugs are nonstimulants. They can help with focus, attention, and other ADHD symptoms. A nonstimulant may be prescribed when a patient cannot tolerate a stimulant, if a stimulant was not effective enough, or in combination with a stimulant to make it more effective. Examples of nonstimulant ADHD medicines include Strattera, Kapvay, and Intuniv.
- Antidepressants: Sometimes, an antidepressant may be used alone or in combination with a stimulant to treat ADHD symptoms. This is considered an off-label use (a use that’s not FDA-approved). An antidepressant may be especially helpful in patients who also have depression or anxiety.
It may take some trial and error until you and your healthcare provider figure out which medicines and doses are best for you. It may take several weeks or even months until your medication is adjusted to the most effective dosage. Talk with your healthcare provider about what to expect when taking a new medication. If your symptoms worsen or do not improve, follow up with your healthcare provider for professional medical advice.