ADD and ADHD are often used interchangeably, but are they the same diagnosis or different conditions?

Before 1987, living with chronic inattention and distracted thoughts might have meant you were living with attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Though ADD is considered an outdated term, it’s still used to describe “inattentive ADHD” — a form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder affecting approximately 6.1 million children in the United States.

“ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood,” says Holly Schiff, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist in Greenwich, Connecticut. “It impacts the parts of the brain that help with planning, focus, and ability to execute tasks.”

While it’s most often noticed during childhood, ADHD affects adults as well.

While boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, research shows girls are more likely to live with the inattentive subtype of this condition, previously referred to as ADD.

ADD was once used to describe a person who has trouble focusing but didn’t have hyperactive or impulsive behaviors.

However, the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) changed the criteria to include the symptoms and behaviors as a subtype of ADHD — now referred to as ADHD, predominantly inattentive presentation.

If you think you have inattentive ADHD, consider consulting with a mental health professional specializing in ADHD. They will work with you to determine which type of ADHD you have and the treatments that may work best for you and your symptoms.

Inattention, or trouble focusing or concentrating, is a symptom of ADHD.

“Inattentive ADHD is a subtype of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Schiff explains. “Its symptoms include a limited attention span, distractibility, forgetfulness, and procrastination.

“These individuals have a hard time sustaining focus, following instructions, and organizing tasks. So here, lack of focus and attention are the primary symptoms, not hyperactivity.”

If you’re living with this type, your primary symptoms involve being inattentive or easily distracted.

How these symptoms present can vary in your daily life, but you may notice you:

  • forget about chores and errands during the day
  • lose or misplace necessary items such as keys, pens, glasses, or cellphones
  • catch yourself daydreaming
  • avoid activities that require lengthy concentration
  • don’t manage time well
  • find it difficult to be organized
  • start tasks but lose interest or focus
  • don’t read or follow instructions completely
  • have difficulty staying focused during long events
  • skip details or make careless mistakes
  • appear distracted when being spoken to

Living with this type of ADHD means your primary symptoms focus on hyperactive behaviors and impulses.

You may notice hyperactivity and impulsivity in different ways, including:

  • constant fidgeting
  • inability to sit still
  • rapid, excessive talking
  • interrupting conversations
  • impatience while waiting
  • running or climbing where inappropriate
  • being always “on the go”

Living with combined presentation ADHD means you may experience various symptoms related to inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

The field of mental health continues to evolve. As research emerges and conditions become better understood, the criteria for a diagnosis may change.

Originally, what’s now known as ADHD was referred to as “hyperkinetic impulse disorder.”

In 1980, the name was changed in the DSM to attention deficit disorder.

At that time, researchers didn’t consider hyperactivity a primary symptom of the condition, though ADD with hyperactivity was included as a subtype.

In 1987, revisions to the DSM combined hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsiveness into one disorder, and ADHD formally took the place of ADD.

It wasn’t until 2000 that ADHD was broken into the subtypes mental health professionals use today.

ADD is no longer a diagnostically correct term. Still, it’s sometimes used by people, even in the mental health field.

Some professionals believe ADD doesn’t carry the same stigma as ADHD.

Being labeled as “hyperactive” may carry the misconception of bad behavior or being a “troublemaker.”

If you have inattentive ADHD, you might have trouble paying attention and concentrating on a task. You may have a hard time focusing long enough to complete a task at work, home, or school.

However, research suggests that you might pay more attention to tasks or activities you’re interested in than those you are not.

Staying focused and on task can be challenging when you have ADHD, but there are ways to manage these symptoms and get things done.

Living with inattentive ADHD — or ADD as it was once called — means you may find your attention wanders, or you lose track of words in conversations. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up on getting projects done or doing tasks that require focus.

Medications, support groups, and therapy can help you find ways to manage these symptoms, but other tips may also help improve your focus, such as:

  • breaking large tasks into smaller, achievable goals
  • making detailed plans with clear endpoints
  • keeping your workspaces clean
  • writing yourself notes and reminders
  • turning off your phone and other distractions
  • working alongside someone your trust

ADHD is different for everyone, but you’re not alone. Support groups can help you connect with other people. Sharing can be an important opportunity to learn — and to pass on — new ADHD management skills.