ADHD has been in the news lately, with recent findings that African American and Hispanic children are less likely to receive a proper diagnosis than Caucasian children. What is ADHD and what are its causes and symptoms? Read on to learn the answers and how to identify different ways to treat this condition that affects approximately three to five percent of U.S. children and adults.
What is ADHD and What Causes It?
The acronym ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, one of the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorders. This condition is characterized by overactivity, inability to focus, impulsivity, or a combination of these symptoms to a degree that is beyond normal for the age and developmental level of the individual. Boys are diagnosed with ADHD much more often than girls are and the disorder, most likely because girls are less likely to demonstrate behaviors of hyperactivity and more likely to be simply inattentive, which makes them go “under the radar” in the classroom and other group environments. About 60% of the time, ADHD continues into adulthood.
Causes of ADHD have not been identified by researchers. Environmental factors and genetics are thought to play roles in its development. Imaging studies reveal that the brain of someone with ADHD is structurally different from the brain of another person without it. It can be more difficult to identify this condition in adults because symptoms and signs can be hard to spot and a single test will not necessarily confirm a diagnosis.
Medical providers usually begin by conducting a detailed psychiatric evaluation and sometimes involves special psychological cognitive and attention testing. Other conditions that affect concentration, such as sleep apnea, depression and anxiety, need to be screened and ruled out. Mental health disorders including mood disorders and learning and language deficits can mimic ADHD. Certain medications or abuse of drugs or alcohol can cause symptoms similar to ADHD symptoms. Diagnosis requires matching at least six signs or symptoms of ADHD as outlined in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Getting Treatment After Identifying ADHD symptoms
Once patients understand what causes ADHD, identify relevant symptoms, and receive a positive diagnosis, treatment should begin. Current treatments involve medications such as stimulants, antidepressants, or atomoxetine, which increase and balance brain chemical levels. These drugs are sometimes combined with psychological counseling that helps patients improve relevant skills and develop coping strategies.