What is ADHD?

People with ADHD have trouble using their brains the way other people do. They often have trouble staying focused on tasks or schoolwork, and they may make careless mistakes. They also have a hard time waiting for their turn or following directions. Their problems can cause frustration and difficulty in relationships at home and at work. Some children and adults with ADHD also have a mental health condition like depression or anxiety.

There are some medications that can reduce symptoms of ADHD and improve functioning. Sometimes a doctor must try several different medications and dosages before finding the right ones for a person with ADHD. Medication can help people with ADHD focus better, stay organized, and work more efficiently. However, it doesn’t cure the disorder. People with ADHD still need to learn coping skills and strategies to improve their ability to function at school, work, and in relationships.

Some adults with ADHD need psychotherapy — or talk therapy — to address their emotional problems and help them cope with the difficulties they face at home and at work. They also may need to learn coping skills and strategies that can help them manage their behavior and keep their ADHD symptoms in check, such as keeping a regular schedule and organizing everyday items. They can learn to pace themselves, set realistic goals, and practice relaxation techniques. People with ADHD also can benefit from getting more sleep and establishing a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.

A professional can diagnose ADHD in adults by reviewing a patient’s symptoms and history, doing a physical exam, and asking questions. They can use rating scales to assess the severity of a person’s symptoms. They can also do an interview with the person and ask family members and teachers about the person’s behavior and problems.

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The American Psychiatric Association has a diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, that includes the criteria for diagnosing ADHD. It classifies symptoms as mild, moderate, or severe.

The NIMH recommends that individuals with ADHD and their families seek treatment from a licensed healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse practitioner, or psychologist. Individuals who are diagnosed with the disorder can benefit from behavioral therapy and other treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). A person can also find support groups and community services to improve functioning. Treatment options may include medication, psychotherapy, and dietary changes.

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