What is ADHD?

When kids or adults have problems staying focused and making decisions, they may have ADHD. Symptoms of this common condition can cause serious problems at school, work and in family relationships. Early identification and treatment are essential for a person’s success.

Doctors don’t know what causes ADHD, but it is believed to have neurological origins. Genetics also play a role. A reduced level of dopamine — a chemical in the brain that helps move messages from one nerve to another — is sometimes linked with ADHD.

To meet diagnostic criteria, children must have six of the following symptoms and they must pose problems in daily life:


The child fidgets or squirms around. Frequently leaves his seat or fails to complete tasks at school, work or leisure activities. Has trouble playing or doing leisure activities quietly. Often blurts out answers before the question is finished or has trouble waiting for his turn in games, conversations or social events. Has difficulty with daily activities, such as organizing school materials or making and keeping appointments. Easily becomes bored with tasks or loses interest in school, work, hobbies and family activities. Having difficulty keeping track of personal belongings or forgetting where they left things (for example, keys, books or homework).


The symptoms include trouble paying attention or seem to have their mind somewhere else when others are speaking, such as “looking at the clouds” while they’re talking. They also have a hard time finishing school or work-related tasks and make careless mistakes. They have a hard time staying organized, avoid tasks that require lots of mental effort or struggle with self-regulation (their internal voice is frequently distracted or loud).

Both males and females can be diagnosed with ADHD. However, girls and women are more likely to have the inattentive type.

If you think your child has ADHD, talk to your family doctor. Your doctor may ask questions and use checklists or rating scales to review the symptoms. They may also interview the child’s teachers and other people in their life. They may do a physical exam to rule out other health problems. Then they’ll discuss treatment options with you, including psychotherapy and medications. The medications used to treat ADHD can change over time, so your child’s doctor will work with you to find the best medication for them. Your child can get help with ADHD even after they’re an adult. Adults with the symptoms of ADHD should be evaluated by a doctor, who will probably ask for information from their teachers and other people who know them well. They will also do a physical exam and review their history. Medications are most commonly used to treat adult ADHD. Psychotherapy can also be helpful in treating adult ADHD. It can help people with ADHD develop better organizational skills and manage their behavior. It can teach strategies to reduce their problems with time management and improve relationships and interpersonal skills. It can also help with anxiety and depression.

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