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Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests For Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly referred to as ADHD, is a chronic health condition that affects millions of children across the world. In most cases, this disorder persists into adulthood too. However, while it is more common to see ADHD in children and adolescents, adults are also affected by Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Studies indicate that anywhere between 3% and 8% of school going children suffer from ADHD.

People who suffer from ADHD are likely to display certain learning and behavioral problems. It has been seen that children who have ADHD -

  • Face difficulties in concentrating on a task or paying attention to what you are telling them.
  • Get bored very easily or even frustrated while performing tasks that are a bit complicated.
  • Cannot seem to follow simple directions or instructions
  • Tend to move about constantly, often impulsively too
  • Do no stop to think about their actions

Parents often argue that some of these behavioral traits are seen in most children. While this is true to some extent, they occur more often than usual in children suffering from ADHD.

Adults who are suffering from ADD also experience several problems, which interfere with their day to day activities. Some of the problems seen in grownups having ADD include - difficulty managing their time, lack of organizational skills and trouble meeting their goals, which is bound to interfere with their professional life. This, along with other behavioral problems prevalent in adults with ADD may also lead to trouble in personal relationships, additions and lack of self-esteem.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for ADHD; however, with the right medication, diet and lifestyle alterations, it is possible to manage the symptoms of this condition. The earlier the treatment begins, the more successful it is likely to be. Many children with ADHD have grown up to lead a normal life, because of regular medication and ample family support.

Tests

Contrary to what many people believe, there are no specific ADHD tests for adults, children and toddlers. It has been seen that diagnosing the condition in adults and toddlers is more challenging, as compared to children. This is because parents tend to observe the behavior or development problems in their kids. However, if the child is too young, parents may have trouble realizing that there is a problem. Some of the tests that are conducted on most people include:

  • Interviews to determine medical history, behavioral history, social and communication skills and emotional mindset
  • A detailed physical exam, which may include blood tests, CT scans and MRIs
  • Hearing and vision tests, as many children and adults who have ADHD have problems with their listening, or poor eyesight.
  • Lead exposure test, as many children and adults who have even a small amount of lead in their body could show symptoms of ADHD.

Many people believe that ADHD leads to poor academic performance in school children. This could be true to some extent, but mainly because the child may have trouble focusing in class, or on an assignment. However, it is important to realize that ADHD does not always have a negative impact on a child's IQ level. A child suffering from ADHD is as likely to score well or even get an average score on IQ tests, as compared to any other child. Therefore, IQ test scores cannot be taken into account when trying to diagnose ADHD.

Many adults who have ADHD have never been diagnose or treated for the condition. However, constant improvements in the diagnosis techniques are being made, which should make it easier to determine if the condition affects a certain person or not.

Causes

A diagnosis of ADHD in a child can be quite troubling for any parent and many of them immediate start blaming themselves, their parenting choices as well as the diet their children have been following. The causes of ADHD continue to remain a mystery and there are several studies underway to determine why people could suffer from this problem. It is believed that there are several possible causes of ADHD in adults and children, some of which include:

Brain Injuries

Brain scans have revealed that altered brain function and anatomy could be prevalent in people suffering from ADHD. Studies indicate that there is less activity in areas of the brain that control levels of activity and attention.

Genetic Causes

ADHD has the tendency to run in families, as there are certain genes that as associated with this condition. Scientists are currently studying the exact impact of genetics on people suffering from ADHD.

Toxins In the Environment

Several school children face a lot of exposure to toxic substances in the environment, such as lead and mercury.

Diet

Food additives or other substances added to food like artificial coloring and preservatives could contribute towards hyperactive behavior. A diet that is high in such foods or even sugar can cause excess hyperactivity in children.

Some of the leading causes of ADHD in children could also include maternal smoking, drinking and drug abuse. Women who smoke, drink, or take drugs during pregnancy increase the risks of this disorder in their children. This also applies to those women who are exposed to environmental poisons or chemicals during the course of pregnancy.

Symptoms

There are several different ADHD signs and symptoms that are prevalent in adults and children.

ADHD symptoms in adults

Many grownups are not even aware of the fact that they are suffering from ADHD. Given below are some of the most commonly seen ADHD symptoms in adults:

  • Difficulty in focusing and concentrating
  • Impulsiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of proper organization
  • Trouble completing tasks or meeting timelines
  • Anger, irritability and a short temper
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Inability of cope with stress
  • Problems maintaining relationships

These are the most common ADHD signs and symptoms that are prevalent in both men and women. However, women suffering from ADHD may suffer from other symptoms too. Given below are some of the most common ADHD symptoms in women:

  • Dysphoria
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Compulsive overeating
  • Lack of control and inability to cope with daily activities

ADHD symptoms in teens

The symptoms of ADHD can vary in teenagers, based on the medication they have been taking, their family environment and the counseling they receive on a regular basis. Given below are some of the most commonly seen ADHD symptoms in teens:

  • Impulsive behavior, like driving too fast, stealing, using illegal substances or having an unprotected sexual intercourse
  • Poor social skills, which could include difficulty in making or maintaining friendships, talking excessively, interrupting conversations,
  • Ignoring or disregarding rules and regulations while participating in team sports or games
  • Difficulty in paying attention or focusing on a single task for an extended period of time. Many of them make careless mistakes even while performing the simplest tasks, which affects their academic performance.
  • Inability to locate their belongings, clothes, books, lunch, money or even their homework.
  • Pacing about the room, fidgeting with hands and feet, getting restless and even disruptive, if forced to stay still.

ADHD symptoms in children

The symptoms of ADHD in children are divided into three main categories, inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. The inattention ADHD symptoms in children include:

  • Is distracted easily
  • Difficulty in following instructions and completing tasks
  • Lack of attentiveness when someone speaks
  • Forgetting everyday activities
  • Problems in organizing tasks or objects
  • Misplacing objects because of the inability to remember where they were kept
  • Excessive daydreaming

The hyperactivity ADHD symptoms in children include:

  • Squirming, fidgeting or bouncing while sitting or standing in one place
  • Difficulty in playing quietly, without making too much noise
  • Talking excessively
  • Inability to sit or stand in one place

The impulsive ADHD symptoms in children include:

  • Interrupting others
  • Difficulty waiting for their turn
  • Answering before questions can be asked

ADHD symptoms in toddlers

Diagnosing ADHD in toddlers may be a bit difficult for parents, as all toddlers show the similar behavior on a regular basis. Given below are some of the most common ADHD symptoms in toddlers:

  • Constant motion, where they move about without any purpose
  • Disruptive behavior, in public settings,
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Playing with objects or toys instead of other children
  • Temper tantrums, accompanied by signs of aggression
  • Lack of motor skills and inadequate language development

Treatment

Although there is no known cure for this condition, patients who are diagnosed with this condition are required to undergo ADHD treatment as early as possible to improve their lifestyle and reduce some of the symptoms. There are several different aspects of ADHD treatment, which could include the use of medications, following a specific diet and undergoing therapy. Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD are often required to go through counseling therapies, which include behavioral, & psychotherapy techniques and social skills training.

ADHD in children treatment

Below are some of the medications that are used as a part of ADHD treatment in children:

  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Methylphenidate
  • Dextroamphetamine- amphetamine
  • Atomoxetine
  • Antidepressants
  • Clonidine
  • Guanfacine

Unfortunately, there are certain side effects that have been associated with these medicines, which could include weight loss, appetite reduction, sleeping problems and irritability. This is probably why many parents are looking for alternative forms of treatment, like homeopathic treatment and herbal ADHD treatment. However, the effectiveness of these alternative medications has still not been determined and there may be side effects associated with them too. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to check with a doctor before using any form of treatment, whether traditional or alternative.

Behavioral psychotherapy is very important for children who are trying to lead a normal life, in spite of suffering from ADHD. Behavioral therapy teaches a child about rewards and timeouts that are associated with the way they behave. Psychotherapy is more beneficial for older children, as it allows them to communicate with their parents, teachers and caregivers in a better way.

The treatment of ADHD in children is not restricted to the child but also includes parents, teachers and caregivers. The parents and caregivers who look after the child are often required to go through special parental skills training or family therapy. This enables them develop the skills to understand and guide their child's behavior. Teachers are also required to adopt special educational techniques, which help the child to learn and retain information, without putting too much pressure on them.

ADHD treatment in adults

Most of the medications prescribed for adults are the same as those recommended for children, though the doses may vary. The additional treatment for adults who are suffering from ADHD includes certain types of therapy, depending upon the severity of the condition, as well as their lifestyle. Some of the common therapies recommended for adults include psychological counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy and perhaps even marital counseling.

Dietary Treatment for ADHD

Studies indicate that a small percent of children respond to dietary treatment for ADHD. In these cases, a special diet, fee of additives, sugar and food allergens brought about a significant improvement in the symptoms and the overall condition of the children. However, there is no specific diet that a child suffering from ADHD should follow.

Several parents ask doctors if complementary therapies like reflexology and acupuncture can be used in the treatment of ADHD. However, it has still not been determined if these forms of therapy help the condition in any way or not.

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