Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sometimes called Attention-deficit disorder (ADD), is a neuro-behavioral disorder where there is an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity. While some of the symptoms of ADHD (such as the inability to sit still, carelessness or forgetfulness, and limited attention spans) are common in most children, an ADHD diagnosis is made when these symptoms are much more pronounced than in other children their age and significantly interferes with their functioning or development.
ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders among children. There are different estimates regarding the prevalence of ADHD. The APA estimates that 5% of American children have ADHD, while the CDC estimated that in 2011 11% of US children had received a diagnosis at some point in their lives. This means that 1 in 5 high school boys and 1 in 11 high school girls in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder also occurs in adults, both those who had ADHD as children and those who didn’t.
Globally, ADHD diagnosis and treatment rates are on the rise. The reasons for this are unclear, but may include a higher awareness of the disorder in general, and in particular among certain groups (such as girls, racial groups, adults), as well as recent changes in guidelines for diagnosing ADHD published in the DSM-5 psychiatric manual.
There are three types of ADHD recognized by the DSM-5: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, and combined type. A diagnosis is made by a mental health professional based on the occurrence of symptoms in the past 6 months. These symptoms should be observed in more than one environment (for instance both at home, in school, in social situations). ADHD is often diagnosed when a child reaches school age (6-12), as the symptoms become more noticeable and interfere more with their daily activities.
Some of the symptoms of inattentive ADHD include:
Lack of attention to detail
Problems staying focused on tasks or activities
Does not listen when spoken to
Difficulty organizing tasks and work
Avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort
Frequently loses things needed for daily life (keys, glasses, wallet, cell phone, etc.)
Becomes distracted easily
Forgets daily tasks
Some of the symptoms of hyperactive/impulsive type include:
Fidgets with hands or feet
Unable to remain seated
Runs or climbs when inappropriate
Unable to play or do leisure activities quietly
Always “on the go”, as if driven by a motor
Difficulty waiting for his or her turn or in line
Interrupts or intrudes on others
(For a complete list of symptoms click here)
ADHD was traditionally considered a disorder which only affected children, and in most cases it disappears when they reach adulthood. However, in recent years ADHD among adults has been gaining more attention. In the US around 4% to 5% of adults are affected by ADHD. According to studies, approximately 80% of children who have ADHD do not report symptoms as adults. Some new research suggests that there is a different type of ADHD, called late-onset ADHD, where symptoms of ADHD only begin to appear past the age of 17. (source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/can-adults-get-a-different-kind-of-adhd-1464023009)
ADHD impacts many different facets of life, including school, work, family and social relationships. According to the FDA, studies have shown that children with untreated ADHD have more emergency room visits and are more likely to have self-inflicted injuries than those receiving treatment for the disorder. Untreated adolescents with ADHD are more likely to take risks, such as drinking and driving. They also have twice as many motor vehicle accidents as those who are treated. (source: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm269188.htm)
The causes for ADHD aren’t clear, but there is evidence that some of it is genetic, and it often runs in families. Other possible non-genetic factors include cigarette smoking, alcohol, or drug use during pregnancy, low birth weight, and brain injuries. Research doesn’t show a link between food with sugar or artificial additives and hyperactive behaviors.