What is ADHD and ADD?

ADHD is a medical condition named attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that impacts a person’s ability to pay attention, finish tasks and sit still.

ADD is a type of ADHD called attention-deficit disorder.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that as many as 11 percent of children between 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD in their lives.

If left untreated, teenagers may self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs. Adults who have not been medicated earlier in life may suffer from anxiety disorders, depression or other physical ailments.

Causes of ADHD and ADD

The exact cause of ADHD or ADD is not known, but research suggests that genetics may play a role. Other potential causes include:

  • Environmental factors such as using alcohol or smoking during pregnancy
  • Developmental — issues in fetal development during key moments may cause ADHD

Risk factors for ADHD and ADD

  • Gender — males are more likely to develop ADHD than females.
  • Age — most patients diagnosed with ADHD experience symptoms before the age of 12 and some can be diagnosed as early as three.
  • Maternal drug use — if your mother used drugs while pregnant, you may be at higher risk of developing ADHD.
  • Exposure to toxins — exposure to lead paint or other toxins can put you at higher risk of developing ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD and ADD

The main signs of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Signs or symptoms of ADHD or ADD differ based on which subtype of ADHD the child has, predominately inattention, predominantly hyperactivity and combined.

Inattention
Signs or symptoms in children who are inattentive include:

  • Child makes careless mistakes in school
  • Child can’t stay focused
  • Child does not listen
  • Child is easily distracted
  • Child forgets easily
  • Child has difficulty following instructions

Hyperactivity and impulsivity
Children who are hyperactive may have some of the following behaviors:

  • Can’t sit still
  • Are in constant motion
  • Fidget constantly
  • Talk a lot
  • Interrupt people talking
  • Do not stop moving

Diagnosis of ADHD and ADD

A child can be diagnosed with ADHD by a pediatrician or primary care doctor during a physical exam.

During the exam, the doctor will take a full medical history of the child and the family and perform a physical exam to determine if there are other causes of the symptoms the child is experiencing.

Other criteria for making a diagnosis includes:

  • Interview — interview any adult that knows the child well to determine the behaviors
  • Review the criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association
  • ADHD rating scales — use peer comparisons to see where the child falls on the ADHD rating scale

There are many other conditions that resemble ADHD in younger children, so it is important to stay in close contact with your primary care provider or pediatrician to evaluate the child closely before treating the child.

Treatment for ADHD and ADD

ADHD can’t be cured, so the goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms associated with the condition. Treatments for ADHD range from counseling and education to medication.

Medications
Medications that are commonly used to treat ADHD include stimulants such as amphetamines or methylphenidates. Your doctor will work closely with you to determine the most appropriate medication for you or your child.

If your child is taking the medication, he or she should be closely monitored by his/her physician. Although generally safe medications, there has been concern about an increase in sudden cardiac death and increased suicide risk associated with medications used to treat ADHD.

Behavior therapy
Many children respond favorably to behavior therapy to manage ADHD symptoms.

Examples of behavior therapy include social skills training, techniques for dealing with family dynamics, parenting training to help parents understand behavior, psychotherapy to help children learn ways to deal with ADHD symptoms, and behavior therapy for dealing with difficult situations.

Children respond best when there is a team of adults working to help them manage their condition. Teachers, parents, doctors and therapists all working together can help the child develop a coping mechanism to manage their ADHD effectively.

Find a primary care doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you