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Do you find it hard to pay attention? Do you feel the need to move constantly during times when you shouldn’t? Do you find yourself constantly interrupting others? If these issues are ongoing and you feel that they are negatively impacting your daily life, it could be a sign of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
ADHD is a disorder that makes it difficult for a person to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors. He or she may also be restless and almost constantly active.
ADHD is not just a childhood disorder. Although the symptoms of ADHD begin in childhood, ADHD can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Even though hyperactivity tends to improve as a child becomes a teen, problems with inattention, disorganization, and poor impulse control often continue through the teen years and into adulthood.
What causes ADHD?
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and across the country are studying the causes of ADHD. Current research suggests ADHD may be caused by interactions between genes and environmental or non-genetic factors. Like many other illnesses, a number of factors may contribute to ADHD such as:
People with ADHD show an ongoing pattern of three different types of symptoms:
These symptoms get in the way of functioning or development. People who have ADHD have combinations of these symptoms:
Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity may include:
Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean a person has ADHD. Many other problems, like anxiety, depression, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms. If you are concerned about whether you or your child might have ADHD, the first step is to talk with a health care professional to find out if the symptoms fit the diagnosis. The diagnosis can be made by a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, primary care provider, or pediatrician.
Although there is no cure for ADHD, currently available treatments may help reduce symptoms and improve functioning. ADHD is commonly treated with medication, education or training, therapy, or a combination of treatments.
Medication. For many people, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. The first line of treatment for ADHD is stimulants.
Stimulants: Although it may seem unusual to treat ADHD with a medication that is considered a stimulant, it is effective. Many researchers think that stimulants are effective because the medication increases the brain chemical dopamine, which plays essential roles in thinking and attention.
Non-Stimulants: These medications take longer to start working than stimulants, but can also improve focus, attention, and impulsivity in a person with ADHD. Doctors may prescribe a non-stimulant if a person had bothersome side effects from stimulants, if a stimulant was not effective, or in combination with a stimulant to increase effectiveness. Two examples of non-stimulant medications include atomoxetine and guanfacine.
Antidepressants: Although antidepressants are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for the treatment of ADHD, antidepressants are sometimes used to treat adults with ADHD. Older antidepressants, called tricyclics, sometimes are used because they, like stimulants, affect the brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine.
There are many different types and brands of these medications—all with potential benefits and side effects. Sometimes several different medications or dosages must be tried before finding the one that works for a particular person. Anyone taking medications must be monitored closely and carefully by their prescribing doctor.
Call your doctor right away if you have any problems with your medicine or if you are worried that it might be doing more harm than good. Your doctor may be able to adjust the dose or change your prescription to a different one that may work better for you.
There are different kinds of therapy that have been tried for ADHD, but research shows that therapy may not be effective in treating ADHD symptoms. However, adding therapy to an ADHD treatment plan may help patients and families better cope with daily challenges.
For Children and Teens: Parents and teachers can help children and teens with ADHD stay organized and follow directions with tools such as keeping a routine and a schedule, organizing everyday items, using homework and notebook organizers, and giving praise or rewards when rules are followed.
For Adults: A licensed mental health provider or therapist can help an adult with ADHD learn how to organize his or her life with tools such as keeping routines and breaking down large tasks into more manageable, smaller tasks.
Education and Training
Children and adults with ADHD need guidance and understanding from their parents, families, and teachers to reach their full potential and to succeed. Mental health professionals can educate the parents of a child with ADHD about the condition and how it affects a family. They can also help the child and his or her parents develop new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to each other. Examples include:
Adding behavioral therapy, counseling, and practical support can help people with ADHD and their families to better cope with everyday problems.
Some schools offer special education services to children with ADHD who qualify. Educational specialists help the child, parents, and teachers make changes to classroom and homework assignments to help the child succeed. Public schools are required to offer these services for qualified children, which may be free for families living within the school district. Learn more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), visit http://idea.ed.gov/.
The National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD®) supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has information and many resources. You can reach this center online at https://chadd.org/nrc or by phone at 1-866-200-8098. You can also visit the NIMH’s Help for Mental Illness page at www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.
Participate in a Clinical Trial
It’s your involvement that helps researchers to ultimately uncover better ways to treat, prevent, diagnose, and understand human disease. You can get involved by participating in a clinical research trial. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Clinical trials can also look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.
Researchers at the NIMH and other NIH institutes, such as the National Human Genome Research Institute, conduct research in many areas including cognition, genetics, epidemiology, brain imaging, and treatment development. The studies take place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. If you think you might be interested in participating in a clinical trial, you should talk to your doctor about whether to apply and identify which ones are right for you. To learn about studies on ADHD that are currently recruiting at NIMH, visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov/joinastudy.
To find a clinical trial near you, visit ClinicalTrials.gov. This is a searchable registry and results database of federally and privately supported clinical trials conducted in the United States and around the world. ClinicalTrials.gov gives you information about a trial’s purpose, who may participate, locations, and phone numbers for more details. This information should be used in conjunction with advice from your health care provider.
Learn more about ADHD
To learn more about ADHD, visit:
National Institute of Mental Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
This information was developed by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml. Accessed July 22, 2020.
The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.