Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder. Although people typically associate this condition with children, it often persists into adulthood. Symptoms include disorganization, restlessness, and an inability to focus.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 60 percent of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the United States will continue to have the disorder as adults. As a result, about 4 percent of the adult population in the U.S. has ADHD.
ADHD can present in three different ways:
- predominantly inattentive ADHD
- predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
- a combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
A person who has inattentive ADHD might have trouble paying attention or may struggle to stay organized. A person with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may feel as though they are always restless or find that they make impulsive decisions.
Each of these three types of ADHD can affect both children and adults. However, the symptoms of each type can often be different in adulthood than in childhood.
The symptoms can also change with age, which means that a person may move from having one type of ADHD to another as they become older.
A person’s sex can also influence their symptoms. According to an article in The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, females are typically older than males when they receive a diagnosis of ADHD. They are also more likely to present with inattentive ADHD and to experience anxiety or depression alongside this disorder.
As a result, and because females with ADHD often develop better coping strategies than males, doctors are more likely to overlook or misdiagnose their ADHD symptoms.
Below are the typical symptoms of ADHD. Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, and the way in which they affect a person’s behavior will be specific to that person.
Inability to focus
A person with ADHD might find it difficult to stay focused on a particular task or a conversation that they are having. They may become easily distracted or find that they often make mistakes at work.
It can be challenging for some people with ADHD to stay organized. They may forget to take important possessions with them or lose items that they need to complete a task.
ADHD can cause people to fidget and find it difficult to stay in one place or do recreational activities quietly. They may feel as though a motor drives them to always be on the go.
At times, a person with ADHD may talk excessively or interrupt other people without waiting their turn. They might find that they often intrude on other people’s activities or make sudden decisions without considering whether they are the best course of action.
Diagnosing ADHD is not a straightforward process. Only a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, physician, or clinical social worker, can make the diagnosis.
The organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) recommend checking whether the mental health professional has specific experience of working with people with ADHD.
A mental health professional will take many factors into account when determining if a person has ADHD and what type they have.
According to CHADD, these factors include the number of symptoms that a person has, the severity and duration of these symptoms, and whether they negatively affect a person’s quality of life.
The professional will also consider if other health conditions could be causing symptoms similar to those of ADHD.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an adult only has ADHD if they experienced symptoms before the age of 12 years. It may be necessary to speak to other people who knew the individual as a child to help determine whether their behavior when they were young could indicate ADHD.
When to see a doctor
If a person finds that their behavior is having a significant adverse effect on their quality of life or that of a loved one, they should speak to a doctor.
According to the NIMH, treatment for ADHD typically involves using medication alongside psychological therapies.
ADHD medications include both stimulants and nonstimulants. Stimulants are quick to work, but they may have unwanted side effects and can react with other medications. Nonstimulants take longer to work but are less likely to cause adverse side effects.
According to the NIMH, possible side effects of stimulants include:
- reduced appetite
- issues with sleeping
- physical tics, such as sudden and repetitive movements or sounds
- changes in personality
- anxiety and irritability
- stomach pain and headaches
If a person experiences these side effects, they should speak to their doctor.
People will often have psychological treatment for the symptoms of ADHD as well as taking prescription medications. Psychological therapies can sometimes even take the place of medications, for example, if a person does not react well to the drugs.
According to the NIMH, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the standard psychological treatment for ADHD. CBT can help a person manage their symptoms to reduce the effect that ADHD has on their life.
According to a study in the Journal of Attention Disorders, research has shown CBT to be effective in reducing the symptoms of ADHD. According to another study in the same journal, people with ADHD saw more improvement in their symptoms when they received medication in addition to CBT.
Although there is no cure for ADHD, research has shown a combination of medication and psychological therapies to be effective in helping a person manage the symptoms of this condition.
If a person suspects that they have ADHD and feels that their behavior is negatively affecting their quality of life or the quality of life of other people, they should speak to a doctor or another mental health professional.
The healthcare professional can ensure that they get the right treatment to help improve their quality of life.