Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is an umbrella term which includes Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity.1

Someone with ADHD might have significant attention problems, appear restless, fidgety, overactive and impulsive. 

ADHD is a neurobehavioral condition which can result from a number of factors that affect how the brain develops and functions. Studies show that ADHD may affect certain areas of the brain that allow us to solve problems, plan ahead, understand others' actions, and control our impulses.2

What are the signs and symptoms?

ADHD can be categorised by three areas – attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.  Someone with ADHD may show a number of symptoms in one or more of these areas – for example they may:

  • lack attention to details and make careless mistakes 
  • have trouble finishing work or school projects 
  • experience difficulty in paying attention and easily distracted 
  • always be 'on the go'
  • be impatient 
  • be overactive and/or exhibit impulsive behaviour.

What causes ADHD?

The causes of ADHD are still not fully known, though it is likely that a combination of factors (including genetics and brain function and structure) are responsible. Certain groups may be more at risk of ADHD than others, including babies born prematurely, babies with low birth weights, individuals with epilepsy, or individuals with brain damage.  

Do people grow out of ADHD?

Some children grow out of ADHD, others have problems that continue into adolescence and beyond.

Approximately half of children with ADHD continue to have difficulties at age 18.3 The main symptoms of ADHD, such as attention difficulties, may improve as children get older, but behavioural problems such as disobedience or aggression may become worse if a child does not receive help.

Symptoms of ADHD may present themselves differently. For example, boys with an ADHD diagnosis may be more disruptive in the classroom than girls.4 It is therefore very important for children to receive help as early as possible, to prevent them from getting socially isolated and from developing other emotional and behaviour problems that can persist into adult life.

Does medication help?

ADHD is often treated with stimulant medication. The theory is that medication can either reduce the uptake or increase the production of the neurotransmitters, thus increasing the levels in the brain.5

While medication does not cure ADHD, it may help to reduce the difficult symptoms resulting from ADHD. As stimulant medication can have side effects including restlessness, difficulty sleeping and headaches, this decision should be discussed with your GP. 

Non-medical ways of managing ADHD include exercise, healthy diet, sleep management and behavioural therapies.

References

  1. Epstein, J., & Loren, R. (2013). Changes in the definition of ADHD in DSM-5: subtle but important. Neuropsychiatry, 3(5), 455-458. 
  2. Curatolo, P., D'Agati, E., & Moavero, R. (2010). The neurobiological basis of ADHD. Italian Journal Of Pediatrics, 36(1), 79. 9
  3. Lipkin, P., & Mostofsky, S. (2007). Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Neurobiology Of Disease, 631-639. 
  4. Bruchmüller, K., Margraf, J., & Schneider, S. (2012). Is ADHD diagnosed in accord with diagnostic criteria? Overdiagnosis and influence of client gender on diagnosis. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 80(1), 128-138. 
  5. Brennan, A., & Arnsten, A. (2008). Neuronal Mechanisms Underlying Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences, 1129(1), 236-245.