People with ADHD have trouble paying attention, staying focused and controlling their behavior. They are more likely to make careless mistakes at school, work or home and may have problems with their family life and social relationships. Often, they are not aware that they have a problem. Without treatment, people with ADHD are at risk of academic failure, depression, family stress and instability, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and accidental injuries.
There are many different types of medication and therapies to treat ADHD. Behavioral therapy helps people learn how to manage their symptoms and improve their functioning at home, school, work and in relationships. Medication usually affects brain chemicals and can help reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity and other symptoms of the condition. The most common type of medication is a stimulant. Stimulants are drugs that increase brain chemicals called norepinephrine and dopamine. These chemicals play an important role in thinking and memory. When taken under a doctor’s supervision, these medications are generally safe for use and can provide significant improvement in ADHD symptoms.
Scientists don’t know what causes the differences in brain activity that characterize ADHD. However, they believe that the disorder is at least partly hereditary. Children who have one or more parents with ADHD are more likely to have it than others. There is also evidence that certain environmental factors, such as smoking or taking drugs during pregnancy, can increase a child’s risk for developing ADHD.
The frontal lobe of the brain develops much more slowly in kids with ADHD than in other children. This area of the brain is instrumental in understanding cause-and-effect, changing habits and reading social cues. It also helps with planning and organizing tasks, thinking ahead, remembering information for a test and learning from a mistake. That’s why when a child with ADHD has a brilliant idea but can’t follow through, or knocks over the waffle cone display while sampling all ten flavors of ice cream, it’s not because she’s “bad,” it’s because her frontal lobe isn’t yet fully developed.
A primary care provider, such as a pediatrician or family doctor, can diagnose ADHD. He or she will ask questions, review the person’s history and symptoms, and use rating scales to assess the severity of the symptoms. They will also do a physical exam and rule out other health problems.