Get a Diagnosis of ADHD

Get a Diagnosis of ADHD

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Getting diagnosed and treated early can help reduce symptoms, improve functioning and decrease negative impacts. Treatment options include psychotherapy, medication and lifestyle changes.

People with ADHD often forget appointments, miss deadlines and make impulsive decisions. Therapy that helps them learn better time management skills can improve their lives and relationships.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

All children and teens have trouble sitting still or controlling impulsive behaviors at times. But for those with ADHD, these symptoms persist into adulthood and interfere with work, school and relationships. If you or your child struggle with these problems, get a diagnosis from your health care provider. Then learn about what causes ADHD, how it is diagnosed and what treatments are available.

There are three main types of ADHD. Children who present primarily with inattentive symptoms, like forgetting things and having difficulty paying attention, are diagnosed with the inattentive presentation of ADHD. They may also have a hyperactive-impulsive presentation, which means they can’t sit still, are always moving and restless, talkative and impulsive and might blurt out answers before others finish speaking or make risky decisions without thinking them through. This is the most common type of ADHD in children.

In the past, a person’s diagnosis was based on their symptom level but now they can be classified by their severity. A health care professional will use the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 to determine whether a person meets the criteria for ADHD. These criteria include how many symptoms are present, how severe they are and if the symptoms cause significant impairment in their lives at home, school or work.

Types of ADHD

There are three types of ADHD: Predominantly Inattentive Type, Hyperactive/Impulsive Type, and Combined Type. The symptoms of each type can differ from person to person and may change with age. It’s important to know the type of ADHD you or your child has so that you can seek the right treatment.

To receive a diagnosis of ADHD, a person must have at least six symptoms that are present over time and cause problems in their daily life. The symptoms must also be noticeable in more than one setting, such as school/work and home. They must not be better explained by another mental health condition, such as mood disorder or anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of the inattentive presentation of ADHD can include fidgeting with hands or feet, having trouble sitting still during class or work, making careless mistakes at school or at work, and forgetting about appointments. Children with this type of ADHD often seem shy or daydreamy. In adolescence, these kids typically show less of the hyperactive/impulsive symptoms and can become misdiagnosed with depression or anxiety disorders.

Causes of ADHD

People with ADHD have trouble paying attention, settling down, listening well or waiting for their turn. Their symptoms cause problems in school, work and relationships. They often have trouble organizing themselves and keeping track of their possessions or appointments. They have trouble staying on task and seem to daydream more than usual. They may also have trouble following directions and making careless mistakes at home or in school.

Symptoms usually appear before age 12 and persist throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood. They must occur in more than one setting and be noticeable to others for a diagnosis. They can range from mild to severe.

Scientists don’t know what causes the brain differences that lead to ADHD. But they do know that genetics plays a big role — kids have a much greater chance of having ADHD if they have a parent with the condition. Environmental and social factors may also play a role. For example, some studies have linked eating a “Western” diet high in sugar, fats and processed foods to a higher risk of having ADHD. Some researchers believe that certain preservatives and food coloring additives may increase the chances of having ADHD.

In addition, the frontal lobe of the brain develops slower in kids with ADHD. This area of the brain is important for planning, understanding cause-and-effect and reading social cues.

How is ADHD Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of ADHD requires a thorough medical examination, including a physical exam to rule out certain medical conditions that can cause symptoms that mimic ADHD. A mental health provider must also evaluate the patient and gather detailed information about the person’s history of behavior problems, family life and relationships, work and school performance, as well as psychiatric symptoms and past treatments.

For children, the evaluation will include direct observation of their behavior in more than one setting – for example, at home, at school and at extracurricular activities. The child’s parents, teachers and other caregivers (such as religious and scout leaders and coaches) will be asked to provide feedback about the child’s behavior.

The severity of ADHD symptoms can vary from mild to moderate to severe, depending on the person and their circumstances. A person’s symptoms must be persistent and cause significant impairment in more than one area of the person’s life to receive a diagnosis of the disorder. This impairment can be in the form of poor grades in school or at work, interpersonal conflicts and difficulties in family relationships, financial struggles due to impulsive spending or trouble keeping track of day-to-day responsibilities.

Treatsments for ADHD

For children, the treatment options are a combination of medicine, behavior strategies and therapy. Medications are most effective when used with other treatments that teach new coping skills and reinforce positive behaviors. Adults who have ADHD may also take medication, but it’s more common for them to use behavioral strategies and therapy.

To make a diagnosis of ADHD, your child’s provider must identify six or more symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity. They must occur in two or more settings, cause problems at home and/or school, interfere with family and social relationships and have been present for at least six months.

The most commonly prescribed medicines for ADHD are stimulants. These are often effective, but everyone reacts differently. It can take time to find the right medication and dose. They can cause side effects, such as a sudden drop in energy or hunger, and some people experience tics (sudden movements or sounds, like eye blinking or throat clearing). In rare cases, they can increase your or your child’s heart rate or blood pressure.

You can help your child cope with their ADHD by creating structure at home and at school, setting clear rules and enforcing consequences for negative behaviors. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can also help your child learn more about their ADHD, improve their self-esteem and develop coping skills.

ADHD in Adults

Symptoms of ADHD often present differently in adults, and people with the disorder may be able to hide them better than children do. Often, these adults have developed strategies to cope with their inattention and organizational problems, which can make it difficult for others to recognize that they have a disorder. It is also harder for women to get a diagnosis of ADHD because they are more likely to have internalizing symptoms (such as depression or anxiety) than men are.

For an adult to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, symptoms must have been present before age 12, be noticeable in multiple settings (home, school or work) and cannot be better explained by another mental health condition. In addition, symptoms must be long-lasting and persistent.

Having untreated ADHD can cause many issues in an adult’s life, including problems at work and in relationships. Having ADHD that is not treated can lead to stress, frustration and feelings of hopelessness and failure. It can also cause self-doubt and low self-esteem. However, it is important to remember that having ADHD does not make you less intelligent or capable. Getting a diagnosis can help you find ways to manage your symptoms and realize that the difficulties you have with attention and organization are not your fault.

ADHD Medication

Many people who get ADHD feel better when they take medication. The right medicines for you or your child can improve symptoms and make it easier to learn and follow rules. You can also try therapy. Some therapies teach strategies for managing stress, anger and impulsive behaviors. Others focus on improving organizational skills and persistence toward goals.

Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are the most common medicines used to treat ADHD. These medicines boost the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. They can cause side effects, such as loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. Most of these side effects occur in the first few days of taking the medicine and go away on their own as the body gets used to the drug.

There’s a risk of misuse and addiction with stimulant medications, and they may increase the risk of having a psychiatric problem or of having a heart attack or stroke. People with a history of depression or bipolar disorder are at particular risk for these risks.

Non-stimulant ADHD medications, such as Strattera and Qelbree, are also used to treat the condition. They belong to a class of antidepressants called selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These medications have a lower risk of misuse and addiction, but they can cause side effects, such as fatigue, stomachaches and changes in sex drive.

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