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What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a mental health condition that causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Brain scans have shown that 4 areas of the brain responsible for advanced decision-making skills and impulse control are slightly smaller in people with ADHD. Research also indicates that genetics are involved; a child with 1 ADHD parent has a 1 in 3 chance of also developing the disorder. 

This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a genetic condition and generally develops gradually in early childhood by age 7. It is not caused by life experience or a lack of parental supervision. It occurs more frequently in boys than girls.

Irwin Isaacs
Psychology Specialist
ADHD is a clinical diagnosis that describes a series of ways in which some chidren and adults attend differently to the circumstances around them and process information. Each person with this diagnosis is unique, and no two are the same. What most individuals with this diagnosis have in common is some degree of distractibility, a tendency to be disorganized, and some degree of impulsivity. However, even though students with ADHD usually acheive lower grades, it is very important to know that there is no direct correlation between ADHD and inelligence. In fact it appears that most people with this diagnosis have above average levels of intelligence. The most painful consequence to ADHD children is damage to their self esteem that results from perceived educational shortcomings.
Dr. Diji Vaughan
Pediatrician

ADHD refers to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The symptoms that comprise the core elements of the condition include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. These affect interactions and conduct in all settings and can be a serious impediment to developing normal relationships with other individuals, attaining set goals and objectives. Both children and adults can be affected.

Affected school aged children practically seem to run on a "motor" that's always going, they can't stay in line, can't stay focused for long—can barely sit through a TV broadcast of games that require focusing especially.

The true distribution of the disease varies widely depending on many factors. The population being studied being one, low resource countries have lower rates of diagnoses as this condition is often construed as a moral problem and addressed as such as was indeed the case in England early in the 19th century when the condition was first described. Socioeconomic factors also influence tracking of true epidemiology greatly.

A biochemical marker for diagnostic aid is not available yet and scoring based on symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity in more than two settings, often school and home form the cornerstone of the most widely used tools for diagnosis. The role of chemical receptors in the brain referred to as Dopamine receptors have been studied extensively for treatment purposes and many of the common medications used for therapy through complex pathways ensure appropriate stimulation of areas of the brain where dopamine receptors are plenty.

Genetic patterns of inheritance have not been clearly delineated but siblings of affected children and their parents have considerable risk above average of having ADHD symptoms. Some authorities put this risk above average as high as 8-fold. The natural history of the condition favors symptom attenuation and even resolution as the children get older with good management and support systems.

ADHD can coexist with other neuro-psychiatric conditions and even leave affected children more prone to adopting high risk adolescent behavior and related vices when managed inappropriately.

Stimulant medications have been studied extensively and when administered under the supervision of a physician, have generated very good outcomes in all domains of the condition and in social relationships, career etc. helping affected individuals lead normal, productive and rewarding lives.

Dr. Iris M. Rodriguez-Ocasio, MD
Pediatrician

There are 3 types of ADHD:

  1. The Inattentive type - makes careless mistakes, has difficulty maintaining attention, does not seem to listen, does not follow through on tasks, is not organized, avoids sustained mental effort, loses things, easily distracted, and is forgetful
  2. Primarily Hyperactive-Impuisive Type - often fidgets or squirms, inappropriately leaves seat, inappropriately runs or climbs, has difficulty playing quietly, often is "on the go", talks excessively, blurts out answers, has difficultly waiting for turn, and often interrupts or intrudes on others. For the symptoms to be diagnosed they must be present for at least 6 months
  3. Combined type.
Dr. Lynne Kenney
Psychology Specialist

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological disorder. It is characterized by developmentally inappropriate impulsivity, inattention, and in some cases, hyperactivity. Although individuals with ADHD can be very successful in life, without appropriate identification and treatment, ADHD can have serious consequences. These consequences may include school failure, depression, conduct disorder, failed relationships, and substance abuse. Early identification and treatment are extremely important.

ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), and in some cases, are overly active.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) started rising to fame, at about the same time as Seinfeld and Friends, in the 1990s. It is age and developmentally inappropriate inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with functions at home, work, school, and in social situations. While we all have trouble concentrating, especially after lunch (all except me, of course), and can feel hyper after a huge cup of strong coffee (or gallon—one cup barely wakes me up), the effects wear off and do not affect our ability to function. That’s one of the toughest things about ADHD. The symptoms are so severe that they interfere with your ability to function. Luckily, with help from a skilled therapist and/or consistent doses of medication, many people with ADHD can function well in school and work and thrive socially. Plus, if this involves your child, help is usually available, and the sooner you seek it the better. Your child's school is equipped (usually) to help your child succeed. So talk to your child's teacher, a school counselor, and your doctor to find out what treatment options and courses of action are available to help your child cope with ADHD.

Dr. Janetta Kelly, MD
Pediatrician

ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a syndrome that affects a person's ability to stay focused and on task. The person will exhibit behaviors of inattention, easy distractibility, impulsiveness, and restless over activity. A child or adult may exhibit behaviors of difficulty initiating and completing tasks or assignments; not paying attention when spoken to; being easily distracted by other activities, people or noises in one's environment; often losing needed items for everyday tasks at home, school, and work; fidgeting of the hands or feet, or inability to be still while seated;  appearing to need to be in motion, climbing, running; excessive talking; interrupting others without regard to what that person might be doing or saying; difficulty waiting for one's turn; avoidance of activities that require sustained or prolonged mental focus or effort. The person might often say that s/he did not intend to do or say what was done or said, appear genuinely remorseful, and/or express "I couldn't help it".

ADHD, with or without the hyperactive behavior, represents a dysfunctional level of trouble with focus, attention, mental organization, restlessness, completion of tasks. The scatteredness and distraction usually are limited to certain cognitive tasks but not to all undertakings and behaviors. However, if the trouble with focus and disorganization create enough dysfunction in some aspects of life to have an overall problematic impact on life, so it is more than merely an inconvenience, then it is a disorder worthy of therapeutic attention. ADHD almost always begins in childhood and often tapers as on grows into adulthood. However, it can extend far into the adult years in some cases, usually without the hyperactivity. Of course, the attention deficit syndrome must not be attributable to another psychiatric condition like mood or anxiety disorders, to substance abuse, or to a medical illness. 

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The diagnosis of ADHD is made based on a combination of behaviors including in inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. These behaviors can interfere with a child's ability to learn at school and socialize with friends and family. ADHD tends to run in families and often parents realize they have it when their children are diagnosed.

It's important for parents to know that almost all children have times when their behavior gets a little out of control, they seem to daydream, fail to pay attention or don't finish what they start. However, for some children, these kinds of behaviors are more than an occasional problem. Children with ADHD have behavior problems that are so frequent and severe that they interfere with their ability to succeed in school and life. Fortunately, with appropriate diagnosis and treatment, most children with ADHD can learn to control their behavior, do well in school and succeed in life.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurologic condition with a wide range of behavioral manifestations in children, teens, and adults. It is thought to be due to a biochemical alteration in the brain's executive functioning capacity. The underlying cause is not known. Signs and symptoms may include: difficulty focusing on tasks, difficulty completing tasks, fidgeting and difficulty staying still, poor concentration, lack of attention to detail. In children and teens, ADHD can coexist with a "learning disability" which must be identified by psychometric testing and addressed appropriately. ADHD is treated with a variety of behavioral strategies and sometimes with medication.

What’s most important about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is that it directly impacts your child’s ability to function at home and at school, because it is characterized by inattentiveness, overactivity, impulsivity, or a combination of these.

Sure, at times all kids have trouble focusing, act without thinking, and can be hyperactive. The difference with ADHD is that symptoms last for at least six months, are more severe than in other kids the same age, and occur in two areas of the child’s life, usually at home and in school. A child with ADHD may understand what’s expected of him, but he has trouble following through because he can’t pay attention, sit still, or listen to details. To be officially diagnosed, the disruptive behaviors cannot be linked to upsetting events such as a divorce, a move, a severe illness, or a change in schools, because those stressors may cause your child to act out for an extended period of time. There are actually three types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined, which is the most common.

From The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

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Dr. Jonathan I. Scheinman, MD
Nephrologist

ADHD should be viewed as an alternative wiring of the brain, not necessarily a "disorder". Anyone seriously interested in this issue should first read Hallowell and Ratey's "Driven to Distraction", and Hallowell's succeeding books. Diagnosis requires considerable training, and "treatment" should be undertaken cautiously. It is most often referred by teachers, experiencing "disruptive" children, but the professional is best qualified to evaluate.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

The symptoms of ADHD are real and debilitating. They can be clustered into three categories:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling driven by a motor
  • Impulsiveness

Although scientists and clinicians are still debating the best way to diagnose and treat ADD/ADHD, the disorder is recognized as a valid brain difference that causes significant impairment in those whom it afflicts.

As I wrote in The Gift of ADHD (2005), the label ADHD can add insult to injury. It reminds me of a scene from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail: When the Black Knight’s arm is cut off by King Arthur, he proclaims, “Tis but a scratch.” Then his other arm is cut off, too. “Barely a flesh wound,” he says.

The joke is his bravado in the face of one mortal wound after another. The resilience required to maintain dignity in the face of ADD labels such as deficit, disorder, impairment, irreversible brain damage, and affliction, is no joke.

It’s self-evident that a deficit disorder causes impairment. Indeed, impairment in functioning is required to diagnose ADD in an adult. What is less evident—but equally important—is that in many ways ADD can be a gift. I don’t argue with the idea that ADD is a “neurobiological condition.” The evidence that ADD is genetic is compelling. If so, it makes sense that our actual brain structure is involved. ADD may be hardwired into us, but it may also be adaptive and provide us with advantages others lack, particularly in our current, fast-paced, digital culture.

Dr. Sohrab Zahedi, MD
Neurologist

I spend my weekday mornings in a high-turnover jail. As a part-time correctional psychiatrist, I have first-hand experience with the devastating consequences of ADHD. Think Alvin and the Chipmunks on caffeine (though this is an oversimplification). Though often associated with children, the data is clear that many adults suffer from it as well. The good news is that there is treatment and that if caught early and properly addressed, the prognosis, in terms of functioning (read staying away from drugs and criminal trouble) can be very good.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a biological disorder that affects how the brain functions and develops. People with ADHD have trouble paying attention, sitting still, or controlling their behavior.

Many people have behaviors that are like ADHD symptoms, especially children. The difference with ADHD is that these symptoms are chronic (long lasting) and they interfere with daily life. For example, people with ADHD often have trouble at school or work. They may also struggle to learn from past mistakes or predict how their choices will affect the future. Their personal relationships can suffer. And as a result, they may feel anxious, unsure of themselves, and depressed.

ADHD is a serious condition, and it often persists into adulthood. Right now, there's no cure for ADHD. But with proper treatment, most people with ADHD can enjoy better relationships and self-esteem—and have a much better chance of reaching their full potential.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder of childhood and may persist into adulthood. It is also one of the most frequently studied disorders, which is good news for anyone affected by the disorder. ADHD is characterized by symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that impact daily functioning in school, at home or at work, and in interpersonal relationships.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Dr. Kimberley Taylor, PsyD
Psychology Specialist

ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a behavioral condition that makes focusing on everyday requests and routines challenging.

People with ADHD typically have trouble getting organized, staying focused, making realistic plans and thinking before acting. They may be fidgety, noisy and unable to adapt to changing situations.

Children with ADHD can be defiant, socially inept or aggressive.

Families considering treatment options should consult a qualified mental health professional for a complete review of their child's behavioral issues and a treatment plan.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.