What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

8 Dec 2022
Stefano Mirabello
Stefano Mirabello
Medical Writer
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Do you have a hard time focusing on one task? Do you feel like you can’t sit still? You may be experiencing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder in children. It can also carry on into adulthood. Keep reading to learn more about what ADHD is and how it’s treated.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects about 5% of the population. ADHD it’s not considered a learning disability however, ADHD symptoms can make it harder for you to learn. People with ADHD have difficulty sustaining attention, impulsive behaviours, and may be overly active. Even though these symptoms can vary from person to person, they must be present for at least six months in order for a diagnosis to be made. Symptoms may even change over time. For example, someone who was very active as a child may become more subdued as an adult. However, ADHD symptoms typically become less severe as a person gets older.

There are three different types of ADHD: inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined type. The inattentive type is characterised by impairment in sustaining attention and being easily distractible. The hyperactive-impulsive type is characterised by problems with impulsive behaviour and symptoms of hyperactivity. The combined type is a combination of the two previous types and is the most common.

What are the causes of ADHD?

Although the exact cause of ADHD is unknown, it is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including brain function and structure, genetics, and exposure to toxins.

Brain imaging studies have shown that people with ADHD have differences in the structure and function of certain brain regions compared to those without ADHD. This difference may be due to genetic factors or environmental factors such as exposure to toxins during development. Additionally, research suggests that ADHD runs in families, which suggests that genes may play a role in its development. Also, exposure to certain toxins, such as lead, during pregnancy or early childhood has been linked to an increased risk of developing ADHD.

Another theory is that ADHD is caused by a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help to transmit signals between nerve cells, and they play an essential role in regulating mood and behaviour. Studies have shown that people with ADHD have lower levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.

Although it is most commonly diagnosed in children, ADHD can also persist into adulthood. There are several risk factors for ADHD, including genetic predisposition, low birth weight, exposure to toxins, and maternal smoking during pregnancy. ADHD is also more common in males than females.

While the exact cause of ADHD is still unknown, understanding the possible contributing factors can help provide better support and treatment for those affected by this disorder.

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

The symptoms of ADHD can be divided into three main categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Inattention refers to unfocused behaviour, such as daydreaming, not being able to pay attention when spoken to, careless mistakes in schoolwork, forgetfulness, and inability to focus mental effort on a task.

Hyperactivity means fidgeting, squirming or feeling restless, talking excessively, blurts out answers or comments, struggling to wait their turn in the conversation, short attention span

Impulsivity refers to rushing into things without thinking or acting without considering the consequences.

While ADHD is often associated with hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity, ADHD can also have a significant impact on executive functioning. This includes skills such as planning, organisation, time management, working memory and analytical thinking. Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty completing tasks, following through on commitments, or meeting deadlines. It’s important to remember that not everyone with ADHD will have the same symptoms and that the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. In addition, ADHD symptoms can change over time, depending on things like age and environment. Adult ADHD may present slightly differently from ADHD in children and adolescents.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

A diagnosis of ADHD usually starts with a referral to a specialist in the Psychiatry or Pediatrics department from a GP, school, or other healthcare professional. The assessment will typically involve completing a detailed history and interviewing both the individual and their family or carers. It may also involve carrying out some psychological tests. Once the assessment is complete, the mental health professional will be able to provide a diagnosis of ADHD and make recommendations for treatment.

In the United Kingdom, ADHD is diagnosed according to the criteria set out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). These criteria require that an individual display a persistent pattern of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention that is more severe than what is typically seen in individuals at the same developmental stage. The individual must also have impaired functioning in at least two settings (e.g., home, school, work) and exhibit symptoms that are not better explained by another condition (e.g., anxiety, depression). In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, an individual must have exhibited symptoms for at least six months. If an individual meets these criteria, a diagnosis of ADHD can be made by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.

What treatments are available for ADHD?

One of the most common questions patients and their families ask about ADHD is what treatments are available. There are several different treatment options available for ADHD, and the best one for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. While there is no cure for ADHD, there are several effective treatments that can help reduce symptoms and improve functioning.

Medication

The most commonly prescribed type of ADHD medication are stimulants, which work by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These medications can be very effective in reducing symptoms, but they can also have side effects such as increased anxiety and heart rate. Stimulants include methylphenidate (Ritalin) and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) are commonly prescribed in the UK.

Non-stimulant medications are another option, and they work by affecting other chemicals in the brain such as noradrenaline and serotonin. These medications tend to have fewer side effects than stimulants, but they are not as effective in reducing symptoms. Common non-stimulants include atomoxetine (Strattera).

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a type of treatment that involves talk therapy. These interventions involve teaching people with ADHD new skills and strategies for managing their symptoms. There are several different types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychoeducation, and family therapy.

Each type of therapy approaches ADHD from a different perspective and can be customised to meet the needs of the individual. Psychotherapy can provide people with tools and strategies for managing their symptoms, improving communication and relationships, and coping with stress. It can also help people to understand more about ADHD and how it affects their lives.

Psychotherapy is usually provided by a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional. It is typically done on an outpatient basis, which means that people come to appointments during the week and then return home afterwards. Treatment typically lasts for several months to a year, depending on the individual’s needs. Research has shown that psychotherapy can be an effective treatment for ADHD and can help people to improve their symptoms and functioning.

Behavioural therapy is a type of psychotherapy that can be effective in treating ADHD. It can help to change negative patterns of behaviour and teach new skills. The therapist will work with the person with ADHD to identify areas where they need to make changes. They will then help to develop a plan to make those changes. The therapist may also provide support and encouragement. In some cases, behavioural therapy may also involve family therapy to help parents learn how to best support their child. Behavioural therapy can be done in individual or group sessions.

Some people find that medication is very effective in managing their symptoms. Others may prefer non-medication treatments such as behavioural therapy, educational interventions, or lifestyle changes. It can be used alone or in combination with medication. Some people may also benefit from a combination of stimulant and non-stimulant medication and other treatments.

How do people cope with ADHD?

Many people who have ADHD feel that they are unable to cope with the challenges of everyday life. This can be because they have trouble focusing, concentrating, or completing tasks on time. As a result, people with ADHD may become overwhelmed by daily activities. In addition, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, mental health conditions, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and low self-esteem are common among people with ADHD. These factors can make it even more difficult to cope with the symptoms of ADHD. However, there are some things that people with ADHD can do to help manage their symptoms.

One of the most important things you can do is to learn as much as possible about your condition. This will help you to understand your symptoms and triggers, and find the best ways to manage them. For example, creating a daily routine and breaking tasks down into smaller goals can help to make daily activities more manageable. In addition, talking to a therapist or counsellor can help to address issues like anxiety and low self-esteem. Finally, medication can also be helpful for managing the symptoms of ADHD.

With the right support and treatment, people with ADHD can learn to cope with their symptoms and live fulfilling lives. If you or your child is displaying any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk to a doctor so to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

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