ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a developmental and behavioral disorder that affects 3% to 5% of all school-age children.
In fact, experts now estimate that ADHD affects about 60% of adults who had ADHD in childhood.
What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?
The symptoms of ADHD include inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity that are inappropriate for a person’s age level.
Children who have ADHD often:
- Are easily distracted by sights and sounds in their environment.
- Are unable to concentrate for long periods of time on low stimulation tasks (homework vs. video games).
- Are restless and impulsive.
- Have a tendency to daydream.
- Are slow to complete tasks.
Adults who have ADHD often:
- Miss work deadlines.
- Miss appointments.
- Appear hectic and disorganized.
- Have significant problems prioritizing.
Symptoms of ADHD in adults and children vary by individual and range from mild to severe.
What Causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD isn’t known. Experts do know that there are changes in the brains of people with the condition. It is not caused by home or school situations or by poor parenting.
How Is ADHD Diagnosed?
There is no single test used to diagnose ADHD. It is diagnosed after a child has shown some or all of symptoms of ADHD on a regular basis for more than 6 months.
The diagnosis of ADHD involves the gathering of information from several sources, including school, caregivers, and parents. The health care provider will consider how a child’s behavior compares with that of other children the same age.
The health care provider will also do a physical exam to look for any medical problems that may affect a child’s behavior.
ADHD in adults is diagnosed using a similar process.
How Is ADHD Treated?
Although there is no cure for ADHD, treatment can help control symptoms. There are several types of treatments available.
Stimulants for ADHD Treatment
Stimulant medications (or psychostimulants) have been used to successfully treat ADHD symptoms for many years. Stimulants are used to treat both moderate and severe ADHD in adults and children over age 6, with the exception of Adderall, Dexedrine, and Dextrostat, which can be safely used in children as young as age 3.
Stimulants used to treat ADHD include:
- Adderall, Adderall XR
- Dexedrine, Dexedrine Spansule Capsules, Dextrostat
- Focalin, Focalin XR
- Metadate CD, Metadate ER
- Methylin, Methylin ER
- Ritalin, Ritalin LA, Ritalin SR
When used long term, stimulants carry a risk of drug dependence and abuse and should be used cautiously in anyone with a history of drug dependence or alcoholism.
Nonstimulant Drugs and ADHD
Strattera is the only nonstimulant treatment for ADHD. It is approved to control ADHD symptoms in children, adolescents, and adults. Strattera carries a warning about the increased risk of suicidal thinking in children and adolescents. Doctors are advised to watch for this behavior and alter medications as needed.
Antidepressant Therapy for ADHD
Several types of antidepressant drugs can be used to treat ADHD. Antidepressant therapy for ADHD is sometimes used as the initial treatment in children or adults who also suffer from significant depression. Antidepressants, however, are generally not as effective as stimulants or the newer nonstimulant treatments at improving attention span and concentration. It also may take 2 to 4 weeks for the full benefits of antidepressants to appear.
Note: In October 2004, The FDA has determined that antidepressant medications increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents with depression and other psychiatric disorders. If you have questions or concerns, discuss them with your health care provider.
Other Drugs for ADHD
Two drugs, Catapres and Tenex, normally taken to treat high blood pressure, have been shown to be of some benefit for ADHD when used alone or in combination with stimulant drugs.
Behavior Management and ADHD
Learning behavior management techniques is considered to be an essential part of any successful ADHD treatment program. Most experts agree that combining medication treatments with extended behavior management is the most effective way to manage ADHD in children and adolescents.
In adults with ADHD, experts agree that a combination of medication and socialization training and/or behavior management can help most patients.