ADHD: A Complete Guide to Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Benjamin Martin - 27 July 2021
ADHD is an increasingly common problem across the world. Not only does it affect children, but many adults are finding that they have had ADHD their whole lives without receiving a diagnosis for it.
Whether you have been diagnosed with ADHD, or just display some ADHD-like symptoms, this guide tells you all you need to know about ADHD, and how to treat the symptoms.
- What is ADHD?
- ADHD vs ADD
- ADHD symptoms in children
- ADHD symptoms in adults
- How to get diagnosed for ADHD as an adult
- ADHD treatment
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is characterised by hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention. Beginning in childhood, it is usually diagnosed in children, however, the symptoms can extend into adulthood.
In some cases, ADHD does not get diagnosed until adulthood. ADHD is a so-called developmental disorder, which means that it does not suddenly appear in adulthood. Instead, the symptoms will have persisted from childhood onwards.
As implied in the name, there are two categories into which the symptoms fall: inattentiveness and hyperactivity or impulsivity.
ADHD is usually treated with ADHD medications and therapy. While they do not provide a cure, they can relieve the symptoms experienced.
The causes of ADHD are still a topic of research. However, contributing factors seem to include genetics, environmental influences, and problems during the developmental periods of the nervous system.
However, no one knows exactly what ADHD is caused by, although it is generally understood that it can run in the family.
While there is no cure for ADHD, we’ll be going through some steps that can help manage and alleviate its symptoms.
We’ll be looking mainly at the three characteristics that make up ADHD and how they show themselves in childhood and adulthood.
ADHD vs ADD
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a form of ADHD that doesn’t include the constant movement and fidgeting associated with the hyperactivity that comes with ADHD.
ADD can often go undiagnosed or unnoticed, because this disorder means people struggle with inattention issues, not hyperactivity or impulsiveness.
ADHD is often diagnosed faster because its hyperactive symptoms mostly become apparent in childhood.
ADHD symptoms in children
The ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention often begin in early childhood and as mentioned earlier, ADHD is commonly diagnosed in children as opposed to adults.
ADHD can appear before the age of seven. While everyone experiences concentration issues occasionally, with ADHD they become persistently disruptive and extend into different environments and aspects of your life.
Hyperactivity is a big part of being able to diagnose the disorder in childhood, because kids with ADHD appear to be constantly moving and full of energy. The child also would not be able to control these bursts of energy.
The abundant energy that kids with ADHD have can sometimes be felt in their chatter, an unwillingness to let other children talk, and also in their desire to answer questions first, which can be informed by their impulsivity.
Being in the classroom, many children with ADHD can suffer inattentiveness, which is exacerbated by long lessons and homework that can demand a lot of focus.
Children with this disorder can sometimes mistakenly be considered disruptive, as they can find it difficult to sit still or follow instructions.
Often children with ADHD are understood to be incapable of paying attention. However, this is not true, as they can fully devote themselves to tasks that they enjoy. If the activity becomes boring, the child loses interest.
ADHD symptoms in adults
Usually, the symptoms of ADHD reduce over time when children and teenagers progress into adulthood.
While some children with ADHD will present with symptoms in adulthood, the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that “2 out of every 3 of those diagnosed with ADHD as children continue to have these problems as teenagers. 2 out of 3 of these will still have problems as adults.”
Therefore, the diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood is less common and more difficult than in childhood. However, while the experience of ADHD in adulthood may differ, the symptoms experienced are very similar.
Common symptoms include not being able to focus on a task, getting easily distracted and finding it difficult to remain still, experiencing a need to move, fidget with things etc.
Most people have experienced these symptoms at some point in their life, but this doesn't mean that we all have ADHD. Therefore, the diagnosis of ADHD is a process that aims to be as precise as possible.
While children with ADHD are full of energy and sometimes impulsivity, the symptoms in adults are usually less extreme, but adults do usually have the same sense of energy and restlessness.
Some studies have suggested that while hyperactivity can decrease with age, impulsive behaviours can increase, as adult life can indulge more risk-taking behaviours.
In general, ADHD symptoms in adults can often appear in more subtle ways than in children. For instance, a child with ADHD could act impulsively in a classroom by calling out answers, while an adult could do so by dominating the conversation with others.
Symptoms can include:
- Poor time management
- Difficulties multi-tasking
How to get diagnosed for ADHD as an adult
ADHD is diagnosed by qualified health professionals (i.e. a psychiatrist) often using the DSM-5.
The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently in its fifth edition. Because adult ADHD may present differently to ADHD in childhood and adolescence, the criteria for diagnosis are slightly different.
Instead of presenting with 6 symptoms of each of the below categories, adults and adolescents over 17 must only present with 5 symptoms of each category.
Importantly, these symptoms must interfere with a person’s functioning and quality of life to be diagnosed as a mental disorder and therefore, as ADHD.
Inattention: symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level.
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
- Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period (such as schoolwork or homework).
- Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
- Is often easily distracted.
- Is often forgetful in daily activities.
Hyperactivity and impulsivity: symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level.
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in their seat.
- Often leaves their seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
- Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
- Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
- Often talks excessively.
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
- Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).
In addition to the above, according to the DSM-5, these symptoms must be present in more than one setting. Another criterion for the diagnosis is that symptoms must have been present before the age of 12.
This may make a diagnosis in adulthood more difficult. Of course, there will be other criteria and factors taken into consideration when a psychiatrist diagnoses ADHD.
There is a wide range of treatments available for people with ADHD, and they can range from medication and therapy to exercise and diet.
ADHD treatments aim to alleviate the symptoms of ADHD to help those with the disorder manage its effects in their daily lives.
Medication, often alongside therapy, is widely used to treat ADHD. However, it is important to recognise that they do not cure ADHD, but rather help manage its symptoms.
According to the NHS, there are four main types of prescription drugs used to control ADHD symptoms: Methylphenidate, Dexamfetamine, Atomoxetine, Lisdexamfetamine.
Other than Atomoxetine, the mentioned prescription drugs are stimulants and tend to work quickly.
Medication can help improve concentration and focus for those with ADHD, but should always be regulated by a doctor.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This kind of therapy involves communication and discussion, and is a means of correcting thought patterns that are disruptive and negative to those with ADHD.
This kind of therapy can be explored individually or in a group situation depending on what you feel comfortable with.
CBT therapy can provide you with a good support network and determine how to organise and structure your life better.
Regular physical exercise is often recommended for those with ADHD.
Exercise can help your mind concentrate and it also increases your dopamine levels and endorphins.
You could try something simple like going on walks, but more intense activities such as martial arts are also a great way to harness your attention and use your energy.
Specifically, going outside to do physical exercise could also improve the effects of ADHD, as some studies suggest being outdoors can alleviate fatigue, particularly experienced by children after a long school day.
If you’re struggling to balance your ADHD symptoms with a busy working routine, you can try incorporating small steps to organise your day effectively.
This can be as simple as using a diary, on paper or on your smartphone, and using this to structure aspects of your life.
While this won’t treat ADHD, alongside the other treatments people with ADHD can use, this can be a useful tip to managing the symptoms.
Even changing your environment into one that works for you more can help alleviate symptoms or distractions, helping you to focus on your tasks more.
Diet and supplements
Alternative, natural treatments for ADHD in adults are being researched, however, there is lacking evidence regarding their effectiveness at this point.
Having a balanced diet is generally advisable and beneficial. Many studies encourage those with ADHD to have a diet high in protein in order to stop blood sugars rising, which can add to the hyperactive aspect of ADHD.
Additionally, there have been suggestions that supplements such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may be helpful for people with ADHD.
However, the NHS stresses that while some people experience a link between their diet and either worsening or improving ADHD symptoms, further research is needed and talking to one’s GP before making any changes to your diet is highly advisable.
If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, you should stick with the treatment recommended by your doctor.
However, if you have ADHD-like symptoms, you could consider using natural brain food supplements to mitigate the symptoms. They are convenient, affordable and effective.
Many naturally-sourced supplements have been shown to enhance concentration, as well as calm you down.
This makes them an effective choice for those who are looking to treat ADHD-like symptoms.
When choosing a supplement for this purpose, we recommend opting for a stack. A supplement stack is a single supplement that contains many different individual ingredients, often working in synergy together.
We recommend trying Brainzyme Focus Elite
This is world’s first 3-in-1 brain supplement, live culture and multivitamin.
If you have ADHD-like symptoms, Brainzyme Focus Elite can help you manage them.
If you are susceptible to getting distracted and losing focus, so if your brain is not receiving the right nutrient delivery, the chances of maintaining any focus at all is very low. Therefore, the better your brain health, the easier it will be to maintain concentration.
As well as eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, the best way to ensure that your brain is receiving everything it needs is with a supplement that has been made with scientifically proven ingredients.
These supplements are packed with a variety of ingredients, such as panax ginseng, EMT™ blend, choline and guarana that are all scientifically proven to support brain function by providing you with a smooth, stress-free sense of focus whilst also supporting long-term brain health, memory and positive mood.
It has been formulated with ingredient research from leading neuro-cognitive and nutritional experts, including the 18-member panel at EFSA.
These fast-acting supplements are easily absorbed, and many people have found that Brainzyme has helped them manage their ADHD symptoms. For a detailed report, read about the ADHD Focus Project’s experience with Brainzyme here.
About the author
Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast who has tried every type of performance-boosting supplement under the sun. At Brainzyme, he uses his expertise to produce educational content for the Nootropics UK and Brain Supplements UK blogs.
Based in Edinburgh, Benjamin loves spending his free time in nature whenever he gets the chance.