What is ADHD? How Is ADHD Diagnosed and What Are Your Treatment Options?

ADHDAttention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition that affects children and adolescents and can continue into adulthood for some.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 3% to 5% of children have ADHD. Some experts, though, say ADHD may occurs in 8% to 10% of school-aged children.  Experts also question whether kids really outgrow ADHD.  What that means is that this disorder may be more common in adults than previously thought.  Children with ADHD generally have problems paying attention or concentrating.  They can’t seem to follow directions and are easily bored or frustrated with tasks.  They also tend to move constantly and are impulsive, not stopping to think before they act.  These behaviors are generally common in children.  But they occur more often than usual and are more severe in a child with ADHD.   The typical behaviors that are common with ADHD interfere with a child’s ability to function at school and at home.

Adults with ADHD may have difficulty with time management, organizational skills, goal setting, and employment.  They may also have problems with relationships, self-esteem, and addictions.

What Causes ADHD?

Scientists are not sure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genes play a large role.  Like many other illnesses, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors.  In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors, and are studying how brain injuries, nutrition, and the social environment might contribute to ADHD.

  • Genes.  Inherited from our parents, genes are the “blueprints” for who we are.  Results from several international studies of twins show that ADHD often runs in families.  Researchers are looking at several genes that may make people more likely to develop the disorder.  Knowing the genes involved may one day help researchers prevent the disorder before symptoms develop.  Learning about specific genes could also lead to better treatments.  Children with ADHD who carry a particular version of a certain gene have thinner brain tissue in the areas of the brain associated with attention.  This NIMH research showed that the difference was not permanent, however, and as children with this gene grew up, the brain developed to a normal level of thickness.  Their ADHD symptoms also improved.
  • Environmental Factors.  Studies suggest a potential link between cigarette smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy and ADHD in children.  In addition, preschoolers who are exposed to high levels of lead, which can sometimes be found in plumbing fixtures or paint in old buildings, may have a higher risk of developing ADHD.
  • Brain Injuries.  Children who have suffered a brain injury may show some behaviors similar to those of ADHD.  However, only a small percentage of children with ADHD have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
  • Sugar.  The idea that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes symptoms worse is popular, but more research discounts this theory than supports it.  In one study, researchers gave children foods containing either sugar or a sugar substitute every other day.  The children who received sugar showed no different behavior or learning capabilities than those who received the sugar substitute.  Another study in which children were given higher than average amounts of sugar or sugar substitutes showed similar results.  In another study, children who were considered sugar-sensitive by their mothers were given the sugar substitute aspartame, also known as Nutrasweet.  Although all the children got aspartame, half their mothers were told their children were given sugar, and the other half were told their children were given aspartame.  The mothers who thought their children had gotten sugar rated them as more hyperactive than the other children and were more critical of their behavior, compared to mothers who thought their children received aspartame.
  • Food Additives.  Recent British research indicates a possible link between consumption of certain food additives like artificial colors or preservatives, and an increase in activity.  Research is under way to confirm the findings and to learn more about how food additives may affect hyperactivity.

Diagnosing ADHD?

There is no single medical, physical, or other test for diagnosing ADD/ADHD.  To determine if you or your child has ADD/ADHD, a doctor or other health professional will need to be involved, and you can expect him or her to use a number of different tools: a checklist of symptoms, answers to questions about past and present problems, or a medical exam to rule out other causes for symptoms.

Keep in mind that the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, such as concentration problems and hyperactivity, can be confused with otherADHD disorders and medical problems.  Just because it looks like ADD/ADHD doesn’t mean it is, so getting a thorough assessment and diagnosis is important.

To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, you or your child must display a combination of strong ADD/ADHD hallmark symptoms, namely hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention.  The mental health professional assessing the problem will also look at the following factors:

  • How severe are the symptoms?  To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, the symptoms must have a negative impact on you or your child’s life.  In general, people who truly have ADD/ADHD have major problems in one or more areas of their life, such as their career, finances, or family responsibilities.
  • When did the symptoms start?  Since ADD/ADHD starts in childhood, the doctor or therapist will look at how early the symptoms appeared.  If you are an adult, can you trace the symptoms back to your childhood?
  • How long have the symptoms been bothering you or your child?  Symptoms must have been going on for at least 6 months before ADD/ADHD can be diagnosed.
  • When and where do the symptoms appear?  The symptoms of ADD/ADHD must be present in multiple settings, such as at home and school. If the symptoms only appear in one environment, it is unlikely that ADD/ADHD is to blame.


Treatment Options For ADHD?

There are numerous ways to tread ADHD, below I will touch upon a couple of the most effective treatments:

  1. Diet Modification:  Many people have found success in treating ADHD with the Feingold Diet.  The Feingold Diet removes artificial additives, artificial coloring, artificial sweeteners and preservatives from the diet.  Instead, the Feingold Diet encourages the consumption of fresh organic foods.  Adding Omega-3 (fish oil) to the diet has also been proven to help treat ADHD.  For some people, making these dietary changes can be a successful treatment for ADHD
  2. Medication:  Ritalin in its variant forms is the only prescription medication that successfully treats ADHD.  Ritalin is a Class II drug, which is closely regulated.  While the medication is often successful in treating ADHD symptoms, Ritalin has a number of side effects that can become problematic, the most common one being lack of appetite (resulting in weight loss) and insomnia.
  3. Exercise Modification:  For many people, getting the right amount of sleep can help alleviate ADHD symptoms.  Keeping a structured schedule, including going to bed at the same time every night, can be an effective treatment for ADHD.  Other physical changes that can treat ADHD include getting lots of exercise and engaging in martial arts.  Yoga and meditation are good physical treatments for ADHD because they help to calm the mind and increase focus.

The best treatment for ADHD is often a combination of the above treatments.  Improving your diet and getting more exercise is a good idea, whether you have ADHD or not.  It is best to begin your treatment plan with the least invasive treatments before moving to more serious treatments, such as medication.  Some people can successfully treat ADHD without having to use prescription medication. However, other people will not respond enough to the other treatments to be successful without taking medication for ADHD.

Thanks for Reading!!!



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About the Author ()

Originally born and raised in Woburn Massachusetts (love my Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins!) I made my trek northward to the beautiful state of Maine back in October 2003 after marrying my college sweetheart. We began a family in 2004 and I am happy to say that we have 4 happy, healthy, beautiful children that bring an amazing amount of joy to our lives! I am also a type 1 diabetic. Diagnosed back in 2006 (out of the blue), at a routine doctors visit. Diabetes has single handed-ly been the biggest obstacle that I have faced in my life. At the time I had no idea of what a roller coaster ride I would be in for, I mean really, what's a couple finger sticks a day and a couple shots of insulin for food...this will be easy, I got this! Well 2 ER visits later, I quickly found out that this was no joke, and if I wanted to see my little ones grow up, this was something that I needed to take seriously! Little by little as we began to digest all of the information that was being thrown at acting insulin, short acting insulin, lancets, test meters, test strips, ketone sticks, carb counting, food groups, glucagon emergency kits, insulin pumps, glucose monitors...OMG, my head was spinning like a top!! After a couple of crazy years, I can happily say that I am well controlled and feel absolutely amazing! Not to be lost in all of this either is the amazing support of my wife. She has been my rock! She has been with me every step of the way, from 2am finger sticks to helping me change out a failed pump in the middle of a crowded restaurant. She truly is an amazing wife and mom and I can't imaging my life without her love and support- love you babe!

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