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What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which was previously known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a common childhood disorders that often lasts through adulthood. ADHD Symptoms include problems focusing and staying focused, impulsive behavior, and sometimes hyperactivity or over-activity. The following information applies to both adults and children who may have Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


What Causes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

All of the causes of ADHD are not known, however numerous studies indicate that genetics plays a significant role. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder probably results from the interaction of several factors. Scientists are currently looking at potential environmental factors, and are examining how factors such as nutrition, brain trauma, and one’s upbringing may contribute to the development of ADHD.


Genetic Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Results from a number of twin studies indicate ADHD often runs in families. Scientists are studying a few isolated genes genes that may increase the likelihood of developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Accurately identifying the implicated genes may one day help scientists more effectively treat or even prevent the disorder before it develops. 

We do know that some children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have thinner brain tissue in the attention areas of the brain. Interestingly, studies have shown the difference is not permanent, and as these children grew up, their symptoms improved, and their brains developed to normal levels of thickness. 


Environmental Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

A number of Studies indicate there is likely a link between alcohol use and even cigarette use during pregnancy and ADHD in children. Moreover, very young children exposed to toxic levels of lead in old plumbing or paint in old buildings, have an increased likelihood of developing Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Contrary to popular belief, numerous studies have shown sugar is not associated with increased symptoms of ADHD. 

A few studies in which mothers thought their children received sugar, when in fact they were given placebo, endorsed more symptoms of hyperactivity. There is new research indicating food additives may be associated with ADHD symptoms, though it is in the early stages and has not yet been confirmed. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue into adulthood. The average age of onset is 7 years old. It affects about 4.1% American adults.


Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The predominant symptoms in ADHD are poor attention span, hyperactivity or overactive behavior, and impulsive behavior. Of course it is normal for children to exhibit some of the problems at times, but children with ADHD have them to a more severe degree. For an accurate diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the child must exhibit the symptoms below consistently for at least six months, and the symptoms must be unusually severe as compared to other children. 


Symptoms of Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder


  • Have difficulty focusing on one thing

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another

  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable

  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new

  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities

  • Not seem to listen when spoken to

  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly

  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others

  • Struggle to follow instructions.


  • Fidget and squirm in their seats

  • Talk nonstop

  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight

  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time

  • Be constantly in motion

  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.


  • Be very impatient

  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences

  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games

  • Often interrupt conversations or others' activities.


Accurate Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 

No single test can diagnose ADHD. Instead, a licensed mental health professional needs to gather information about the child, and his or her behavior and environment. Most medical doctors will refer the family to a psychologist with experience in childhood mental disorders such as ADHD. The psychologist will first try to rule out other possibilities for the symptoms. The psychologist may need to consider a wider range of symptoms when assessing adults for ADHD because their symptoms tend to be more varied and possibly not as clear-cut as symptoms seen in children.

To be diagnosed with the condition, an adult must have ADHD symptoms that began in childhood and continued throughout adulthood. Health professionals use certain rating scales to determine if an adult meets the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. The mental health professional also will look at the person's history of childhood behavior and school experiences, and will interview spouses or partners, parents, close friends, and other associates. The person will also undergo a physical exam and various psychological tests.

For some adults, a diagnosis of ADHD can bring a sense of relief. Adults who have had the disorder since childhood, but who have not been diagnosed, may have developed negative feelings about themselves over the years. Receiving a diagnosis allows them to understand the reasons for their problems, and treatment will allow them to deal with their problems more effectively.


Treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Currently available treatments focus on reducing the symptoms of ADHD and improving functioning. Treatments include medication, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or a combination of the two. Treatments can relieve many of the disorder's symptoms, but there is no cure. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives. Researchers are developing more effective treatments and interventions, and using new tools such as brain imaging, to better understand ADHD and to find more effective ways to treat and prevent it.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aims to help an individual change his or her behavior. It might involve practical assistance, such as help organizing tasks or completing work projects, or working through emotionally difficult events. CBT also teaches the individual how to monitor his or her own behavior. Learning to give oneself praise or rewards for acting in a desired way, such as controlling anger or thinking before acting, is another goal of behavioral therapy. In addition, clear rules, organizational strategies, and other structured routines can help an individual control his or her behavior.

A cognitive behavioral therapist can help an adult with ADHD learn how to organize his or her life with tools such as a large calendar or date book, lists, reminder notes, and by assigning a special place for keys, bills, and paperwork. Large tasks can be broken down into more manageable, smaller steps so that completing each part of the task provides a sense of accomplishment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy also can help change one's poor self-image by examining the experiences that produced it. The therapist encourages the adult with ADHD to adjust to the life changes that come with treatment, such as thinking before acting, or resisting the urge to take unnecessary risks.

Click for more information about What CBT is and How it Works 


Stimulant Medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The most commonly reported side effects are decreased appetite, sleep problems, anxiety, and irritability. Some children also report mild stomachaches or headaches. Most side effects are minor and disappear over time or if the dosage level is lowered. Be sure your child eats healthy meals. If this side effect does not go away, talk to your child's doctor. Also talk to the doctor if you have concerns about your child's growth or weight gain while he or she is taking this medication.

If a child cannot fall asleep, the doctor may prescribe a lower dose of the medication or a shorter-acting form. The doctor might also suggest giving the medication earlier in the day, or stopping the afternoon or evening dose. Adding a prescription for a low dose of an antidepressant or a blood pressure medication called clonidine sometimes helps with sleep problems. A consistent sleep routine that includes relaxing elements like warm milk, soft music, or quiet activities in dim light, may also help.

Less common side effects. A few children develop sudden, repetitive movements or sounds called tics. These tics may or may not be noticeable. Changing the medication dosage may make tics go away. Some children also may have a personality change, such as appearing "flat" or without emotion. Talk with your child's doctor if you see any of these side effects.

Under medical supervision, stimulant medications are considered safe. Stimulants do not make children with ADHD feel high, although some kids report feeling slightly different or "funny." Although some parents worry that stimulant medications may lead to substance abuse or dependence, there is little evidence of this.

Current medications do not cure ADHD. Rather, they control the symptoms for as long as they are taken. Medications can help a child pay attention and complete schoolwork. It is not clear, however, whether medications can help children learn or improve their academic skills. Adding behavioral therapy, counseling, and practical support can help children with ADHD and their families to better cope with everyday problems. Research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has shown that medication works best when treatment is regularly monitored by the prescribing doctor and the dose is adjusted based on the child's needs.

This information is provided courtesy of the National Institute of Health.