What are the subtypes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity).

ADHD has three subtypes:

  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive - Most symptoms (six or more) are in the hyperactivity-impulsivity categories. Fewer than six symptoms of inattention are present, although inattention may still be present to some degree
  • Predominantly inattentive - The majority of symptoms (six or more) are in the inattention category and fewer than six symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present, although hyperactivity-impulsivity may still be present to some degree Children with this subtype are less likely to act out or have difficulties getting along with other children. They may sit quietly, but they are not paying attention to what they are doing. Therefore, the child may be overlooked, and parents and teachers may not notice that he or she has ADHD.
  • Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive - Six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present Most children have the combined type of ADHD

Treatments can relieve many of the disorder's symptoms, but there is no cure. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives. Researchers are developing more effective treatments and interventions, and using new tools such as brain imaging, to better understand ADHD and to find more effective ways to treat and prevent it.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Mental Health.

There are three different types of ADHD, depending on which symptoms are strongest in the individual. They can change over time, so they are called 'presentations' rather that subtypes:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
  • Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.
Dr. Diana K. Blythe, MD

The three subtypes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, are predominantly inattentive, predominantly impulsive/hyperactive, and combined. People with the predominantly inattentive subtype, have trouble paying attention or focusing as their main symptoms of ADHD. With the predominantly impulsive/hyperactive subtype, the main symptoms lie with impulsive, interruptive or inappropriate behavior. Most frequent is the combined subtype, where the person fits criteria for both the inattentive, as well as the impulsive/hyperactive subtype.

Three major types of ADHD include the following:

  • ADHD, combined type - This, the most common type of ADHD, is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors as well as inattention and distractibility.
  • ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive type - This, the least common type of ADHD, is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors without inattention and distractibility.
  • ADHD, inattentive and distractible type - This type of AHD is characterized predominately by inattention and distractibility without hyperactivity.
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

There are three subtypes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, people with ADHD may have multiple symptoms of each type. The three subtypes of ADHD are: primarily hyperactive-impulsive type, primarily inattentive type, and combined type. You can imagine that people with primarily hyperactive-impulsive ADHD tend to have a lot of energy. They often have trouble due to the following symptoms:

  • difficulty staying quiet in serious situations
  • frequent fidgeting
  • problems taking turns

Due to their impulsivity, these folks may seek out situations that require a great amount of risk-taking. They might avoid activities that require you to sit still for a long time. As a result, the school environment can be challenging for kids with primarily hyperactive-impulsive ADHD.

People with the primarily inattentive type of ADHD usually struggle at school, at work, and in social relationships. This type of ADHD applies to those who have difficulty:

  • paying attention
  • listening to others
  • remembering things
  • staying organized 
  • staying on task
  • following instructions
  • being careful

The combined type of ADHD includes people who have a combination of the symptoms of the two other subtypes.  



The three types of ADHD diagnosis are: ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type; ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type; and, ADHD, Combined Type.

The names of these diagnosis types reflect the nature of the patient's symptoms.

A child who is classified as being of the Predominantly Inattentive Type may have trouble focusing in class, paying attention to instructions and completing tasks.

He or she also may appear to be daydreaming or tired.

Children who are classified as Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, on the other hand, show constant energy. They can't sit still and because they are impulsive they don't filter their actions or statements.

Someone who has the Combined Type of ADHD may be hyper at some points and appear to be daydreaming at others. They may fail to pay attention and then suddenly blurt out something completely inappropriate to the situation at hand.

The diagnosis of ADHD generally is made by a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, pediatrician or trained social worker. Because they work closely with many children, teachers may be useful in helping to spot possible ADHD cases. They also can help identify potential issues and discuss them with parents.

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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.