What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and affects a growing percentage of children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). ADHD is diagnosed in childhood and is a lifelong condition that is managed through medication and behavior therapy. It is more prevalent in boys than girls, and is not limited to social, economic, ethnic or racial groups.


According to NIMH, ADHD is one of the most common developmental disorders that affect children today and that approximately 5 to 7% of all U.S. children have been diagnosed with the condition. Up to 50% of those diagnosed still have the condition into their teens and adulthood. Doctors are alarmed that the number of ADHD cases is increasing every few years for no known reason.


Causes of ADHD

Scientists aren’t sure what causes ADHD but have determined several key factors that seem to contribute to the condition. Heredity plays some part in ADHD because the condition tends to run in families. Changes to the brain and the conditions surrounding key development phases also seem to be connected. An imbalance of neurotransmitters may trigger ADHD as does the underdevelopment of certain areas of the brain, especially areas that control attention and learning.


Researchers have also identified certain risk factors that seem to appear in children with ADHD, but evidence so far is inconclusive. The factors that may trigger symptoms include poor nutrition, substance abuse during pregnancy, exposure to toxins in utero and in early childhood, and injury to the brain.


Symptoms of ADHD

Children with ADHD can experience mild to severe symptoms of the condition. Symptoms center on problems with inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.  Examples often include forgetfulness, easily distracted, cannot sit still, inability to play quietly, problems with waiting for a turn, lack of focus and problems in communication like interrupting and not listening. As a result, children and teens with ADHD often struggle with self-esteem issues, learning disabilities, substance abuse, anger issues, depression and mood swings. The long-term effects of ADHD are less clear, because researchers have only been investigating ADHD for a few decades and comprehensive conclusions are lacking.


Parents should consult a doctor for more information on how to know if your teen has ADHD and schedule an exam. The doctor should provide recommendations for observation, tests and a reference to a specialist.


Diagnosis of ADHD

ADHD is diagnosed by a specialist in early childhood disorders when a pediatrician refers parents based on observations and a complete medical history. After eliminating other causes via tests, the specialist will authorize a psychiatric assessment to truly determine the extent and severity of the ADHD.


Doctors don’t consider adult ADHD to be an adult-onset disorder and believe that when symptoms seem to manifest in adults, the condition actually started in childhood. Often, clues about the adult’s childhood behavior, development, grades, and relationships provide clues about ADHD that went unrecognized and untreated.


Treatments for ADHD

There is no cure for ADHD but doctors have found some limited success in treating the symptoms of the condition. Medications can help children with ADHD with focus and hyperactivity. The most commonly prescribed medications include Ritalin and Focalin, among others. In addition to medicine, therapy is shown to be an effective step in helping children with ADHD to overcome the challenges of the condition. The treatment helps children learn social and behavioral skills that they need and many schools are providing individualized education plans for children with ADHD so that they can achieve greater success in school. There are many support groups designed to help children with ADHD and their parents to learn more about the condition and provide information to each other about ADHD.


ADHD and Adulthood

Interestingly, many of the symptoms of ADHD are reduced as children and teens grow into adulthood but there are still many adults who still experience the symptoms they had as children. The secondary problems associated with ADHD—depression, low self-esteem and anxiety, for example—tend to increase in adolescence and adulthood. Doctors recommend early diagnosis and in-depth treatment plans as the best way for children with ADHD to lead more typical lives and become successful adults.


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