What is ADHD? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is ADD & ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly referred to as ADHD, is a complex neurological disorder that currently affects around 5% of adults and 11% of children in the USA alone. It is a condition that is often difficult to detect and diagnose, especially in adults and girls. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available for ADHD. We will also take a look at the different types of ADHD and what their specific symptoms are.

In essence, ADHD is a developmental impairment of the executive function of the brain. It results in impaired ability to plan, execute, and focus on tasks, thus interfering with normal day-to-day activities. It is important to point out that ADHD is not a mental illness or a learning disability. Both children and adults can have it and it represents an issue with the brain’s self-management system.

We would like to point out that “attention deficit” is something of a misleading term when it comes to ADHD. The truth is that people with this disorder do not lack attention — they just cannot appropriately and consistently direct it where they should. We believe that the term “attention deregulation” is a more suitable one and many professionals agree with us on that.

Common Symptoms of ADHD

Even though there are different types of ADHD, all of them share some similar symptoms. Below, you will find the most common symptoms observed in people diagnosed with this neurological disorder.

  • Inability to focus
  • Inattention
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Executive dysfunction
  • Melodramatic behavior
  • Poor time management
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hyperfocus

Of course, symptoms can vary significantly between different people. A person might experience all of the above, or just a certain few. Often, many of the symptoms are not easily observable. They do not manifest often, but are always there, hiding under the surface. If we think that we, or someone we know, suffers from ADHD, it is recommended that the individual goes through a simple ADHD test. Depending on the results, a thorough examination by a professional might be needed.

What Are the Causes of ADHD?

Unfortunately, medicine cannot yet define any concrete causes for ADHD. According to research, genetics and family history are a major factor that contributes to a person developing the disorder. Also, early exposure to chemicals and toxins can increase the chance of ADHD developing in children. Scientists are still working to discover if the condition is linked to certain genes. It is suspected that the important neurotransmitter dopamine might play a role in determining whether a person gets ADHD or not.

We need to point out that ADHD is a complex disorder that can be detected by physiological differences in the human brain. Any suggestions that it can be caused by video games, sugar, or poor parenting are simply false. It is a medical condition that needs to be taken seriously and treated appropriately.

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

There is not a single, unified test that can prove that someone has ADHD. Testing is done by a professional who closely examines and assesses any symptoms exhibited by the individual. The standard procedure will also include a review of medical history and pre-existing conditions, as well as a complete physical examination. Such tests are needed to rule out any other conditions that might cause symptoms typical for ADHD.

Diagnosing ADHD requires different approaches when it comes to children and adults. Let’s take a look at the specific procedures needed when examining the different age groups.

Diagnosing ADHD in Children

When it comes to kids, ADHD can be accurately diagnosed only if the child shows at least six of the nine symptoms outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Additionally, the symptoms must have been observed for at least six months and must have occurred in at least two different settings. More importantly, the symptoms should be interfering with the child’s proper development, education, and everyday life.

The majority of ADHD cases in children are diagnosed while they are still in elementary school. A doctor who examines a child for ADHD will usually have a conversation with them and observe their general behavior. It is not uncommon for the specialist to also review school records and request information from teachers, parents, and other caretakers.

Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

Diagnosing ADHD in adults or older teens requires the person to exhibit at least five of the nine symptoms outlined in the DSM, again in a variety of settings. Also, some of the symptoms need to have been present when the person was age 12 or below.

What Are the Different Types of ADHD?

There are a total of three types of ADHD that the DHM outlines. In the manual, they are referred to as “presentations” of the disorder and it is not uncommon for an individual to move from one type of ADHD to another over time. The three types of ADHD are:

  • Primarily hyperactive-impulsive type
  • Primarily inattentive type
  • Primarily combined type

In the following paragraphs, we will take a closer look at each of those types and their symptoms. However, first we will explain how the DSM defines the different ADHD presentations.

How Are Different Types of ADHD Diagnosed?

The types of ADHD outlined in the DSM are based on overt behavioral symptoms. Less visible symptoms, like cognitive patterns, emotional problems, and issues with sleep were not taken into account when preparing the manual. However, modern medicine puts more and more emphasis on those non-behavioral symptoms. Behavioral characteristics alone have proven to be ineffective in defining the more subtle features of ADHD and similar mental disorders.

Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

People with Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD exhibit a severe lack of impulse control. An individual suffering from this disorder is impatient, impulsive, and quick to interrupt others. They also tend to speak too much and exhibit excessive movement and jittering.

Symptoms of Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

  • Fidgeting, hand or feet tapping, jittering
  • Inability to remain seated for prolonged periods of time (for example on company meetings, school classes, etc.
  • Running and climbing in inappropriate situations
  • Inability to play or perform in leisure activities quietly
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity
  • Excessive speaking, even in inappropriate situations
  • Completes people’s sentences for them, interrupts often
  • Impatience and difficulty waiting for their turn to do something
  • Often intrudes on others

Primarily Inattentive ADHD (Formerly ADD)

A person suffering from this form of ADHD will have trouble getting tasks done, following instructions, and generally focusing on what they need to do. It is not uncommon for people with this disorder to often forget things — sometimes items, other times things they were supposed to do. They can be easily distracted and can even lose track of conversations. Primarily inattentive ADHD often goes undiagnosed in children, since it does not cause problems in the standard learning environment.

Symptoms of Primarily Inattentive ADHD

  • Inability to pay attention to details, making careless mistakes in everyday activities involving work or education
  • Difficulty in staying focused on a specific task or play activity
  • Appears distant, would not actively listen if someone talks to them
  • Failure to follow instructions, resulting in an inability to perform, be it at their job, at work, at home, etc.
  • Difficulty organizing and managing activities and tasks
  • Active avoidance of activities that include concentration and focus
  • Often loses items essential to a task or activity
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful in normal, everyday activities

Primarily Combined Type ADHD

Individuals diagnosed with Primarily Combined Type of ADHD display a mixture of the symptoms observed in both other types. In order for a person to receive an ADHD diagnosis, they need to exhibit six of the nine symptoms typical for both Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD and Primarily Inattentive ADHD. Needless to say, Primarily Combined Type ADHD combines the issues raised by the other two types of ADHD.

How ADHD Manifests In Children

As we already mentioned, symptoms of ADHD often manifest in children at school. Kids with this disorder will usually have poor performance in the classroom. Teachers cannot accurately assess whether the issue is present — however, they are often the first to suspect that a child might have this disorder.

However, many of the symptoms of ADHD are similar to typical behavior in children. Because of this, it is sometimes difficult to properly identify the issue, especially in very young kids. A child with Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD can appear to simply be a troublemaker or a disruptor. It is important to keep an eye out for persistent symptoms in different settings to accurately determine if an examination by a professional is necessary.

A common misconception regarding ADHD is that this condition is exclusive to males. As a result, boys are more than twice as likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis as opposed to girls. After all, boys tend to be much more hyperactive, impulsive, and impatient than girls. ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children in the USA. Approximately 10% of kids aged 5 to 17 end up having one of the types of ADHD.

How ADHD Manifests In Adults

When it comes to adults, ADHD is often accompanied by other forms of mental disorders. Around 70% of adults with ADHD suffer from depression, anxiety, or struggle with substance abuse. If left untreated, ADHD in adults can severely impact their quality of life. People experience serious problems in their personal and professional life, as their mental health becomes compromised. As we can see from all the symptoms we mentioned above, an adult can have serious difficulties in performing their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

Around 4.4% of adults in the USA have some form of ADHD. However, this number is probably significantly higher, as a big portion of children with ADHD keep on having the disorder when they are adults. Also, only around 10% of adults with confirmed ADHD receive any treatment for it.

What Is the Treatment for ADHD?

There is not a single ADHD treatment that can help all people who suffer from the condition. The course of treatment is different for each individual, and defining it involves careful examination, organization, and planning. An experienced doctor will be able to determine the most viable options and make a decision along with the patient’s family.

Effective ADHD treatment strategies involve a number of complementary methods designed to lessen the symptoms of the disorder. Such methods often include:

  • Exercise
  • Dieting and nutrition plans
  • Behavioral therapy
  • ADHD-specific medication
  • ADHD-related vitamins and supplements

What Medication Treats ADHD Symptoms?

When it comes to medication used in ADHD treatment, there are two types — stimulants and non-stimulants.

The most common stimulants prescribed to people with the disorder are Ritalin and Adderall. Both influence the central nervous system and boost the production of the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, both of which influence the ability of a person to focus. There are different types of stimulants — some need to be taken once a day, while others more often.

However, stimulants may lead to side effects in some individuals. In such situations, a doctor will prescribe a non-stimulant like Strattera or Intuniv. Non-stimulants are not as effective as stimulants when it comes to relieving ADHD symptoms. On top of that, overall response rates for non-stimulants are quite low. Nevertheless, they might be the only option in certain cases.

Generally, medication is more important in the treatment of ADHD in children than it is with adults. Even though the process of determining the correct treatment might include some trial and error, success will lead to a significant decrease in ADHD symptoms. Overall, each type of ADHD medication has its pros and cons. A doctor should be able to set the appropriate course based on the case at hand.


If we exhibit some of all of the typical ADHD symptoms or observe them in our child, we should not waste valuable time. The best course of action is to seek the help of a medical professional. If indeed the problem is present, there are many ways in which it can be alleviated. Many of them do not involve any medication at all. The most important thing is to detect ADHD on time and not let it go untreated for prolonged periods of time.

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