The three types of ADHD vary by common symptom presentation.

People with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive. The frequency of these individual symptoms will determine which type of ADHD a doctor will diagnose.

ADHD is one of the most common health disorders affecting children. In the United States, around 9.8% of children ages 3–17 have ADHD. The presentation of ADHD will vary between people.

This article will explain the three different types of ADHD.

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There are three main types of ADHD, which differ according to the symptoms that present most commonly. The three types are:

  • ADHD, combined presentation: This is the most common type of ADHD. The person will show impulsive and hyperactive behavior and get distracted easily.
  • ADHD, predominantly impulsive/hyperactive: This is the least common type. The person will show signs of hyperactivity and the need to move constantly and display impulsive behavior. They do not show signs of getting distracted or inattention.
  • ADHD, predominantly inattentive: People with this type of ADHD do not exhibit signs of hyperactivity or impulsivity. Instead, the person will get distracted easily and find it difficult to pay attention.

ADHD is often first identified in school-aged children. A key sign is when their behavior becomes disruptive, and they show signs of:

  • not being able to focus
  • making impulsive decisions
  • being hyperactive

ADHD is more common among boys than girls.

Some people refer to the predominantly inattentive type as ADD (standing for attention deficit disorder), as the term does not contain the word “hyperactivity.”

People referred to the broad diagnosis of ADHD simply as ADD before medical professionals added “hyperactivity” into the disorder’s title. Essentially, ADD is now an outdated way to refer to ADHD.

ADHD is a developmental disorder, meaning that it starts in childhood. However, people with ADHD may still exhibit symptoms in adulthood, many years after initial diagnosis. Other adults may also have undiagnosed ADHD In later life.

A person’s symptoms may also change with age. Typically adults with ADHD exhibit less hyperactive tendencies. However, they may still experience:

  • impulsive behavior
  • poor concentration
  • risk-taking

Some small children naturally display some of the signs of ADHD. These include:

  • high levels of activity
  • difficulty staying still
  • inability to pay attention for long periods

However, this behavior becomes an issue if it causes them problems at home, school, or with their family and friends.

There are some key signs of ADHD that fall into three main types.

Inattention

Signs that suggest someone is experiencing inattention include:

  • having trouble staying focused on tasks or activities
  • getting quickly bored with a task or activity and struggling to complete it
  • seemingly not listening when spoken to
  • having difficulty following instructions
  • showing signs of forgetfulness and making simple mistakes
  • trouble with organization and planning ahead
  • frequently losing or misplacing belongings
  • not enjoying study or prolonged periods of mental effort

Impulsivity

Signs that someone is experiencing impulsivity include:

  • having difficulty waiting their turn
  • often interrupting others
  • blurting out answers or inappropriate things rather than waiting to hear the question or to be called upon
  • problems controlling powerful emotions, which can lead to anger issues
  • taking risks and not understanding the consequences of their actions

Hyperactivity

If someone has the symptom of hyperactivity, they may be showing signs of:

  • constantly fidgeting or squirming
  • having difficulty sitting down and staying still
  • talking all the time
  • constantly moving around, including running and climbing

Doctors can diagnose ADHD at any age. However, most people receive a diagnosis at ages 3–7.

Just because a child shows signs of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity, it does not mean they have ADHD. Some other medical conditions, psychological conditions, or life events can cause similar symptoms, such as:

  • learning disabilities, or problems with reading, writing, and language
  • traumatic experiences, such as moving house or school, bullying, parents’ divorce, or the death of a loved one
  • psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression
  • behavioral disorders
  • medical conditions, including sleep issues, epilepsy, and thyroid problems

There are no specific tests that can diagnose ADHD, so a qualified health professional needs to gather lots of information before they can make a diagnosis.

Parents, carers, and teachers often have to give a detailed history of the child’s behavior. The doctor will also observe the child’s behavior and may recommend psychoeducational tests, which they use to identify and assess potential learning disabilities.

There is no cure for ADHD. However, many treatments can help people manage the disorder.

The type of treatment recommended will depend on a variety of things, including:

  • personal preferences
  • the age of the person
  • the severity of the symptoms
  • whether they have undergone different treatments before

Medication

Drugs can help manage symptoms by balancing the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for attention and controlling impulses.

Common medications for ADHD include:

These drugs can cause side effects, including:

Learn more about the different medications for ADHD here.

Therapy

Many types of therapy seek to address any social, behavioral, and emotional issues the person may experience.

Behavioral therapy can include working in small groups or one-on-one to help the person develop the social skills that will help them to interact with others.

Often therapy can be undertaken as part of the school program for children with ADHD, so discuss this option with both the doctor and the school to find out the best way forward.

Although many people can manage their ADHD, not addressing it can lead to serious problems, so it is important to seek help if concerned.

People can make habitual changes to help manage the condition, including:

  • ensuring proper exercise and sleep
  • establishing a routine for children with ADHD and sticking to it
  • observing and listening to a child with ADHD to look for triggers
  • organizing daily tasks and breaking them down into more manageable steps

Some people have noticed a relationship between hyperactivity and eating foods that contain lots of sugar. If this is the case, it may help to reduce the child’s sugar intake.

There are many positive aspects to ADHD, particularly with proper management. For example, people with ADHD are often creative, enthusiastic, and have lots of energy and drive.

There are three types of ADHD: Predominantly impulsive/hyperactive, predominantly inattentive, and combination ADHD.

Doctors diagnose the different types depending on the common symptoms a person presents.

ADHD is a developmental disorder, meaning that it starts in childhood. Symptoms are typically most noticeable in childhood and adolescence. However, some people may experience ADHD symptoms in adulthood.

Medications and therapy are the primary treatment courses for ADHD.