Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder

What is attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder?

Attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder, ADHD, is highlighted by the persistent inability of a person to pay attention to what is considered important. There may be the additional characteristics of hyperactive motor movements and/or impulsivity.

What characteristics are associated with attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder?

Children normally have a lesser ability to pay attention than do adults, and therefore, we do not expect children to exhibit the same kinds of behaviors as we do adults. The person who is suspected of having ADHD must have a much lower attention span than others when compared to peers of a similar age.

People with ADHD are usually quite impulsive, quite active, or hyperactive. A diagnosis of ADHD means that the symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity have to manifest themselves in at least two environments. For example, the symptoms must be present at school or at work and at home. To be considered to be ADHD, the lack of attention has to cause problems for the individual in the academic or occupational setting.

Are there genetic factors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder?

Attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder tends to run in families. The disorder appears more often in children whose parents suffer from ADHD, alcohol dependence, and/or mood disorders.

Does attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder affect males, females, or both?

ADHD is much more common in males than in females. There are studies which report that males with ADHD outnumber females by at least 4 to1.

At what age does attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder begin?

The diagnosis of ADHD is often not made before the child enters school. Although ADHD may be present earlier, it is the school setting which usually highlights a child’s inattention or hyperactivity. The child’s lack of attention compared with the attention of other children is frequently noted by the teacher and reported to the parents. Children may be diagnosed with ADHD throughout their school years.

Adults may also suffer from the disorder.

How often is attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder seen in our society?

Probably, between two percent (2%) and five percent (5%) of all school-age children have some form of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder. One quarter of those with ADHD may have a learning disorder. See learning disorders.

How is attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder diagnosed?

A mental health professional arrives at the diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder by taking a very careful personal history. The diagnosis of ADHD in the school age child should be made with the help of both parents and teachers. Some psychological tests can be helpful in confirming the diagnosis. Although there are no laboratory tests necessary to confirm the presence of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder nor any physical conditions that must be met, it is very important not to overlook a physical illness that might mimic or contribute to ADHD. If there is any doubt about a medical problem, the mental health professional should refer to a physician, who would perform a complete physical examination and request any necessary laboratory tests.

How is attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder treated?

Behavior therapy and the use of medications have been shown to be effective treatments for ADHD. The use of stimulant medications such as Cylert (pemoline), Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), or Ritalin (methylphenidate) have become the treatment of choice throughout much of the country.

If the person with ADHD is a child, behavior therapy involving the child and his/her parents is frequently helpful. Behavior therapy can be conducted alone or can be combined with medication therapy. The therapist’s consultation with the child’s teacher(s) is a very important element of the treatment.

What happens to someone with attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder?

Children with ADHD often continue to show symptoms of inattention and impulsivity into their adolescence and early adulthood. Children and adolescents with ADHD frequently struggle with low self-esteem.

What can people do if they need help?

If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.

Developed by John L. Miller, MD
Page last modified/reviewed on December 7, 2005

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