What is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, also called ADHD, is the name for a group of behaviors found in many children and adults. People who have ADHD are hyperactive or distracted most of the time. Even when they try to concentrate, they find it hard to pay attention.
People who have ADHD have a hard time organizing things, listening to instructions, remembering details and controlling their behavior. As a result, people who have ADHD often have problems getting along with other people at home, at school or at work.
There is a lot of information in the news about ADHD. Usually the news is about ADHD in children. Not as much is known about the way ADHD affects adults. Often adults who have ADHD are diagnosed when they find out their children have ADHD. This health problem may run in families.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
Many people try to diagnose themselves by using a quiz or a checklist they find in a magazine or see on TV. While these lists can be helpful, it’s best to see your doctor if you think you have ADHD. Your doctor may ask you questions like the following:
- Do you have problems with paying attention and being hyperactive? Have you had these problems since you were a child?
- Do you have a hard time keeping your temper or staying in a good mood?
- Do these problems happen to you both at work and at home?
- Do family members and friends see that you have problems in these areas?
- Do you have any physical or mental health problems that might affect your behavior? (Your doctor may give you a physical exam and do tests to see if you have any medical problems with symptoms that are like ADHD.)
Your doctor might ask you questions about your past, your life now and your relationships. You may be asked to write down your answers on a form.
If I don’t have ADHD, what could it be?
A person can be jittery or distracted for many reasons. The following are some of the other problems your doctor may consider when he or she makes a diagnosis:
- Depression or mood problems
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, or herbal medicines
- Thyroid problems or other hormone problems
- Alcoholism or illegal drug use
- Exposure to lead
What can I do if I have ADHD?
If your doctor thinks you have ADHD, he or she may prescribe medicine and suggest behavior changes. Your doctor may also send you to someone who specializes in treating ADHD for more testing and counseling.
Doctors use several medicines to treat adults who have ADHD. Some of these medicines, like stimulants and antidepressants, were first developed for other health problems. Stimulants and antidepressants often help people who have ADHD. They may improve your ability to pay attention, concentrate and control your impulses. These medicines are easy to take and usually have few side effects. It’s important that you take them just the way your doctor tells you.
What else can I do to help myself?
You can learn ways to change your work environment and keep distractions to a minimum. Many organizational tools and planners are available to help you focus on activities at work and at home.
Many people with ADHD find counseling helpful. A lifetime of ADHD behaviors and problems can cause you to have low self-esteem and problems with your family members. Individual counseling and support groups may help you with these problems.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD