Word on Health

Word on ADHD

Our grateful thanks to Dr Val Harpin for her contribution to this weeks report. The information below on ADHD, provided courtesy of NHS Choices is merely an introduction to the condition - follow this link for futher details. (Scroll down the screen for links to organisations offering help and support) 

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ADHD - an introduction

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a sub-type of ADHD.

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • a short attention span
  • restlessness or constant fidgeting
  • being easily distracted

ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability. However, many people with ADHD also have learning difficulties. They may also have additional problems such as sleep disorders.

Symptoms of ADHD tend to be first noticed at an early age, and may become more noticeable when a child's circumstances change, such as starting school.

Young children are naturally active and easily distracted. However, if these features are excessive for a child's age and general developmental level, and affecting their daily life, they may indicate ADHD.

Diagnosing ADHD.  ADHD is normally diagnosed between the ages of three to seven, although in some cases it may not be until much later. It is more commonly diagnosed in boys.

There are several criteria that must be met for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD. Adults are harder to diagnose because there is no definitive set of age-appropriate symptoms.

What causes ADHD? Although the exact cause of ADHD is not known, research shows that it tends to run in families. Some research also shows that there may be differences in the way the brain works in people with ADHD. Potential risk factors include:

  • being male
  • smoking, alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy
  • being born prematurely

How common is ADHD? ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK. It is estimated the condition affects 3-5% of school-aged children and young people.

ADHD can be a lifelong condition, and many children continue to have symptoms as a teenager and adult.

It is estimated that more than two out of three children diagnosed with ADHD will still have symptoms as teenagers. It is then estimated that two out of three of these teenagers will show symptoms as adults.

It is uncertain whether ADHD can occur in adults without first appearing in childhood.

Treating ADHD.  There is no cure for ADHD, but it can be managed with appropriate educational support, advice and support for parents and the individual, and medication if necessary.

Living with a child with ADHD can be challenging but it is important to remember that they cannot help their behaviour. Some issues that may arise in day to day life include:

  • getting your child to sleep at night
  • arriving at school on time
  • listening to and carrying out instructions
  • social occasions
  • shopping

Types of ADHD. A person with ADHD usually has symptoms characteristic of one of the three subtypes of the condition. The subtypes are:

  • ADHD mainly inattentive
  • ADHD mainly hyperactive-impulsive
  • ADHD combined

If your child has symptoms of all three behavioural problems – inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness – they may have ADHD combined, which is the most common subtype of ADHD.

Alternatively, if your child has symptoms of inattentiveness but not hyperactivity or impulsiveness, they may have ADHD mainly inattentive. This form of ADHD is also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Childhood ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in boys than girls, but this may be because disruptive behaviour, which the diagnosis may be partly based on, tends to be more common in boys than girls.

Girls with ADHD often have the mainly inattentive form of the condition, which may make them quiet and dreamy and can sometimes go unnoticed. It is therefore possible that ADHD could be underdiagnosed in girls, and could be more common than previously thought.

Symptoms in children and teenagers.  The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are well defined. The main symptoms of each behavioural problem are detailed below.

  • Inattentiveness
  • The main symptoms of inattentiveness are:
  • a short attention span
  • being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes, for example in schoolwork 
  • appearing forgetful or losing things 
  • being unable to stick at tasks that are tedious or time consuming
  • being unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • being unable to concentrate
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • having difficulty organising tasks
  • Hyperactivity

The main symptoms of hyperactivity are:

  • being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • constantly fidgeting
  • being unable to settle to tasks
  • excessive physical movement
  • excessive talking
  • Impulsiveness

The main symptoms of impulsiveness are:

  • being unable to wait for a turn
  • acting without thinking
  • interrupting conversations
  • little or no sense of danger

If your child has ADHD, their symptoms usually become noticeable before the age of seven, with a diagnosis usually made between the ages of three and seven.

ADHD can cause problems in a child's life, and can often lead to underachievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults and problems with discipline.

Related conditions in children and teenagers. Although not always the case, your child may also have other problems or conditions alongside ADHD. These are explained below.

Anxiety disorder. Some children with ADHD may have an anxiety disorder that causes them to worry and be nervous most of the time. Your child may also have physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating and dizziness. Read more information about anxiety.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).  Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is common among children with ADHD. It is defined by negative and disruptive behaviour, particularly towards authority figures such as parents and teachers.

Conduct disorder. Children who have conduct disorder have a tendency towards highly antisocial behaviour, such as:

  • stealing
  • fighting
  • vandalism
  • harming people
  • harming animals

If your child is behaving in this way, book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Depression. It is possible for children with ADHD to become depressed as a result of their condition. Read more information about depression.

Sleep problems.  Children with ADHD can be hyperactive and find it difficult to sleep at night. They may experience irregular sleeping patterns.

Epilepsy.  Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that causes seizures (fits). Click here to visit the UK's leading Epilepsy charity fo0r more information and support. 

Tourette's syndrome.  Tourette's syndrome is a condition of the nervous system (the nerves, brain and spinal cord) that causes involuntary movements and sounds. Read more information about Tourette’s syndrome.

Learning difficulties  It is thought that around a third of children with ADHD also have learning difficulties, such as dyslexia (difficulty reading and spelling words).

ADHD Help & Support

ADDISS provides information, training and support for parents, patients and professionals in the fields of ADHD and related learning and behavioural difficulties. Click here to visit the ADDISS website

Young Minds provides information, training and support for parents, children and professionals. Click here to visit their website.

The ADHD Foundation understands the issues around ADHD and share their experience by providing skill support and encouragement. Click Here to visit their website.

AADD-UK provides help support and information for adults with ADHD. Click here to visit their site.

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All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.