What is ADHD?

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If you or your child have ADHD, it can cause problems at home, school and work. But you can improve your symptoms by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and keeping organized, exercising regularly and practicing stress-reduction techniques. Treatment options include behavior therapy, medication and lifestyle changes. Talk with your doctor to decide what’s best for you or your child.

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes ADHD, but they do know that genes play a big role. It often runs in families, and a person has about a 1 in 4 chance of having the condition if one or both of their parents have it. They also know that certain parts of the brain develop differently in people with ADHD, and that this plays a role in their symptoms.

A doctor or specialist will use information from family, teachers and other sources to diagnose ADHD. They will look at the person’s behavior in different settings and over time, to see if there are patterns. They may ask for questionnaires completed by the person’s teacher and caretakers, observe the person in school or other settings and do a physical exam. They will also rule out other medical and psychiatric conditions that have similar symptoms. In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms must have been present before age 12 and continue to cause problems in more than one setting, such as at school, at home or at work.

Providers will also determine whether the person’s symptoms are primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive/impulsive or a combination of both types of ADHD. They will also consider the severity of the symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition Text Revision (DSM-5) offers guidelines providers follow to make these decisions.

Many children and adults with ADHD take medication. The medication helps to reduce their symptoms so they can function better at school and work. The most commonly used medications are amphetamines and non-stimulants. These medications can have serious side effects, so they’re usually prescribed for short periods of time. Some research suggests that a combination of behavior therapies and medication is more effective than either one alone.

Medications don’t treat the root cause of the ADHD, but they can help improve symptoms so people can function at school and work. They can also improve the quality of life for individuals and their families. More research is needed to determine the optimal duration, type and lenght of ADHD treatment and tolerability of medications.

Although it can be difficult to get enough sleep when you have ADHD, a regular bedtime and waking schedule will help. It’s also important to eat a healthy diet and limit your intake of sugar, food additives and processed foods. Get more exercise, practice stress-reduction strategies and try to avoid caffeine and nicotine, which can worsen your symptoms. People with ADHD find that it’s easier to stay on task when their environment is less distracting and they can work at a pace that works for them.

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