Adult ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)
Adult ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)
Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition exhibited by difficulty maintaining attention, as well as hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Adult ADHD symptoms can lead to a number of problems, including unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, and low self-esteem.
ADHD always starts in early childhood, but in some cases it's not diagnosed until later in life. It was once thought that ADHD was limited to childhood. But symptoms frequently persist into adulthood. For some people, adult ADHD causes significant problems that improve with treatment.
Treatment for adult ADHD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD, and includes stimulant drugs or other medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with adult ADHD.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been called attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity. But ADHD is the preferred term because it includes the two main aspects of the condition: inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.
Adult ADHD symptoms may include:
Many adults with ADHD aren't aware they have it — they just know that everyday tasks can be a challenge. Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. The inability to control impulses can range from impatience waiting in line or driving in traffic to mood swings and outbursts of anger.
All adults with ADHD had ADHD as children, even if it was never diagnosed. Some people with ADHD have fewer symptoms as they age, while others continue to have significant symptoms as adults.
What's normal and what's ADHD?
Diagnosis of ADHD in adults can be difficult because certain ADHD symptoms are similar to those caused by other conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders. And many adults with ADHD also have at least one other mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.
When to see a doctor
While the exact cause of ADHD is not clear, research efforts continue.
Multiple factors have been implicated in the development of ADHD. It can run in families, and studies indicate that genes may play a role. Certain environmental factors also may increase risk, as can problems with the central nervous system at key moments in development.
You're potentially at increased risk of ADHD if:
ADHD has been linked to:
Although ADHD doesn't cause other psychological or developmental conditions, a number of other disorders often occur along with ADHD. These include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by first talking to your family doctor. Depending on the results of the initial evaluation, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
What you can do
Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions anytime you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Different types of doctors may diagnose and supervise treatment for ADHD. Seek a provider who has training and experience in caring for adults with ADHD. Psychiatrists, psychologists, family doctors and neurologists may diagnose ADHD, but only psychiatrists and psychologists are likely to provide counseling. Psychologists do not prescribe medication.
Diagnosing ADHD in adults
Ruling out other conditions
Evaluating signs and symptoms from childhood
Diagnostic criteria for ADHD
Hyperactivity and impulsivity
In addition to having at least six symptoms from these categories, someone with adult ADHD:
Your doctor may give you a questionnaire and expanded list of signs and symptoms to help determine whether you have ADHD. In addition, your doctor will carefully examine the impact of your symptoms on your current life — your performance at work or in school and your relationships with friends and family.
Treatments and drugs
Current treatments typically involve medication, psychological counseling or both. A combination of therapy and medication is often the most effective treatment.
The right medication and the right dose vary between individuals, so it may take some time in the beginning to find what's right for you. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of medications. And keep your doctor informed of any side effects you may have when taking your medication.
Common types of psychotherapy for ADHD include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
Because ADHD is a complex disorder and each person is unique, it's hard to make recommendations for all adults who have ADHD. But some of these suggestions may help:
Therapy that focuses on these issues and helps you better monitor your behavior can be very helpful. So can classes to improve communication, conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. Couples therapy and classes in which family members learn more about ADHD may significantly improve your relationships.
There's little research that indicates that alternative medicine treatments can reduce ADHD symptoms. Before using any alternative interventions, talk with your doctor to determine risks and possible benefits. Some alternative treatments that have been tried but are not yet fully proved scientifically include:
Coping and support
While medication can make a big difference with ADHD, taking other steps can help you understand ADHD and learn to manage it. Some resources that may help you include:
Last Updated: 2013-03-07
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