Have you ever had trouble concentrating, found it hard to sit still, interrupted others during a conversation, or acted impulsively despite the chance of injury?
While most people — children and adults — experience all of these challenges from time to time, people living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may face them constantly.
Symptoms of ADHD will affect how you function, and in children, can interfere with development.
These questions and concerns are natural and not uncommon. With the right information, you can learn just what ADHD is about and how you can cope.
ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how you behave.
Symptoms often include ongoing, persistent patterns of inattention, an inability to focus, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. These patterns may lead you to face challenges in how you function daily and develop skills.
ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood — around ages 6-12 — but symptoms can become apparent at any age.
A late ADHD diagnosis might mean you’ve had symptoms since childhood, but they were either misdiagnosed or missed.
Not everyone experiences ADHD in the same way though.
Depending on the type of ADHD you have and your symptoms, some common challenges include:
- hyperactivity: fidgeting, excessive talking, or restlessness
- impulsivity: difficulty waiting for your turn or giving in to urges
You may also have a combo of both hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms.
ADHD can feel and look different for everyone. Symptoms of ADHD in adults might differ from symptoms of ADHD in children, for example.
You might have a different experience with ADHD than another adult also diagnosed with the condition. This isn’t uncommon.
Symptoms will also depend on the type of ADHD you have. You may tend to experience ADHD procrastination or perhaps have difficulty waiting for your turn.
There are three main types of ADHD, which are called specifiers in the DSM-5:
- Inattentive ADHD: This type is primarily characterized by difficulty paying attention or focusing on a task. There’s also a tendency to be easily distracted. No hyperactivity symptoms are usually present.
- Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD: This type is mainly characterized by extreme, excessive, or disruptive behavior and low impulse control. Distractibility or difficulty focusing is rarely seen in this case. This is the least common type of ADHD.
- Combined ADHD: The most common type. It combines symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types.
General symptoms of ADHD include:
- being easily distracted
- losing or misplacing things
- abrupt or impulsive behavior
- lack of motivation for specific activities or in general
- difficulty organizing or completing tasks
- not being able to follow instructions
- constantly moving from one activity to another
- engaging in behaviors that might put you or others in jeopardy
- having a hard time focusing on a conversation
The exact cause of ADHD in either adults or children isn’t yet known. Experts believe it’s probably a combination of factors, including:
- brain development
- early life experiences
- co-occurring conditions
- brain injuries
There are no specific tests, such as C-rays or lab work, to diagnose ADHD. There are a few psychological tests, though.
The condition is usually diagnosed after spending a few sessions with a health professional.
Whether you’re concerned about your child’s behaviors or your own, a health professional will want to learn more about specific symptoms and when they began. They’ll probably also ask about your personal and family medical history.
Both ADHD and Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders. This means they affect your brain and central nervous system in specific ways.
This doesn’t mean they’re associated or parallel conditions.
Although different diagnoses, symptoms of ADHD and autism do sometimes overlap. In fact, research indicates that approximately 1 in 8 children with ADHD have also received an ASD diagnosis.
The exact cause of this co-occurrence isn’t yet clear.
A 2021 literature review found that 1 in 13 adults with ADHD also received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
The same review indicated that nearly 1 in 6 adults living with bipolar disorder was also diagnosed with ADHD.
Some children and adults with ADHD experience symptoms of anxiety disorders, though the connection between the two hasn’t been established.
If you live with ADHD, it might be challenging to distinguish between the symptoms of this condition and the signs of anxiety.
ADHD mainly affects your behaviors and ability to focus on a task. On the other hand, anxiety mostly refers to intense feelings of worry and fear.
Despite the differences, it’s estimated that symptoms of the two conditions overlap in about 25% of the cases.
No matter what age you were diagnosed at, ADHD can be treated and symptoms can be managed.
ADHD isn’t something you spontaneously “grow out” of, though. It requires the help of a health professional in most cases.
Some of the common treatment options for ADHD include:
- behavior management
In many instances, a combination of all is necessary.
If you live with ADHD and other mental health conditions, your healthcare team might want to address first those symptoms that affect you the most.
Children with ADHD often undergo treatments based on behavioral therapy and medication. This depends on the particulars of the case, though. Bringing your child’s pediatrician into the conversation might offer you additional insight on the best options for them.
There are many types of prescription medications and over-the-counter options that are used to treat ADHD in both children and adults.
A physician, psychiatrist, or pediatrician will typically try different drugs and dosages to find the one that works best for you and your symptoms.
The process can sometimes take a while.
It’s natural to feel impatient or concerned about your treatment. You might even wonder if ADHD medication will change your personality or affect you in other ways. There’s no evidence to suggest this will be the case.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by a new diagnosis and all the treatment options that you might have to choose from.
ADHD can be managed, though. And you can be an active participant in this process.
In addition to medication and therapy, there are a few things you can do on your own to help you cope.
Some ways to support your ADHD treatment include:
- eating a balanced diet daily that includes plenty of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- getting plenty of exercise and activity throughout the day.
- getting enough sleep. A minimum of 7 hours is recommended.
- going out for walks or spending time outdoors every day
- keeping your environment clutter-free
- limiting screen time, including TV, computers, tablets, and phones
- setting alarms and reminders for your to-dos or special dates
- working on one thing at a time rather than multitasking
- limiting distractions like loud noise, calendar pings, and keeping your phone within reaching distance all the time
- keeping a list or journal to record some of your symptoms and experiences
In time and with practice, you can develop strategies that help you increase your concentration and control your impulses.
Every child and adult with ADHD is unique. ADHD doesn’t change who you are, only how you behave in some situations.
It’s definitely advisable to seek the help of a health professional to treat ADHD symptoms. It might be crucial to do so immediately if you’re:
- giving in to urges and impulses that put your and other people’s safety at risk
- thinking of hurting you or others
- not being able to function in your daily life
- experiencing physical symptoms
- living with symptoms of other conditions such as depression or anxiety
ADHD can be managed and treatment options are available for both children and adults.
If you or a loved one are interested in learning more about the condition or seeking diagnosis and treatment, these resources can help: