Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that affects behavior. It can cause hyperactive, impulsive behavior, and/or make it difficult to pay attention. These behavioral problems continue over a long period of time. ADHD can affect people of all ages. Though ADHD is present throughout the lifetime, it may not be diagnosed until adulthood.
There are 3 types of ADHD:
- Inattentive (classic “ADD”)
- Combined inattentive and hyperactive—the most common type
The cause of ADHD is unknown. It most likely is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The change may happen while the brain is developing. Genes and environmental factors may both play a role.
|A chemical imbalance in the brain may be responsible for ADHD.|
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Factors that may increase your chances of ADHD:
- Premature birth
- Having a parent or sibling (especially an identical twin) with ADHD
- Having a mother who smoked cigarettes and/or drank alcohol, had a urinary tract infection, or had preterm labor during pregnancy
- Having a parent with certain conditions such as alcohol use disorder and conversion disorder
- Head injury at a young age—less than 2 years old
- Exposure to lead or certain pesticides
Parenting styles may influence the symptoms of ADHD but do not cause it.
These symptoms are common in all children at some point in childhood. Children with ADHD have symptoms that are more severe and occur more often. These children also often have difficulty in school and connecting with their family and peers.
ADHD can in adults can cause problems with relationships, job performance, and job retention. Symptoms can vary according to the type of ADHD:
- Inattentive (classic “ADD”)
- Easily distracted by sights and sounds
- Does not pay attention to detail
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to
- Makes careless mistakes
- Does not follow through on instructions or tasks
- Avoids or dislikes activities that require longer periods of mental effort
- Loses or forgets items necessary for tasks
- Is forgetful in day-to-day activities
- Is restless, fidgets, and squirms
- Runs and climbs, and is not able to stay seated
- Blurts out answers before hearing the entire question
- Has difficulty playing quietly
- Talks excessively
- Interrupts others
- Has difficulty waiting in line or waiting for a turn
- Combined ADHD—Combination of the symptoms above.
Certain mental health or behavior challenges are more common in those with ADHD. This may be because of changes in the brain or challenges because of ADHD symptoms. Common issues include:
- Conduct disorder —difficulty following social rules
- Oppositional defiant disorder —negative, angry, and defiant behaviors
- Learning and language disorders
- Physical conditions such as sleep apnea
- Trouble sleeping
- Substance abuse
- Cigarette use
There is no standard test to diagnose ADHD. It is done by a trained health professional who observes the patient and collects information from the patient, family, caregivers, and teachers.
During diagnosis, the following information may be gathered:
- Behavior and symptoms of ADHD in different settings—home, recreation/sports, and school
- Age at which symptoms started
- How much the behavior affects the child’s ability to function
The goal is to improve the child’s ability to grow, learn, and develop relationships. Doctors should work together with parents and school staff. Together, they can set realistic goals and keep an eye on the child’s response. Proper treatment can prevent problems later in life.
There are no current guidelines to prevent ADHD because the cause is unknown.