What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

health_advice.orth.25Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, is a condition that affects a person’s ability to focus, concentrate, stay on task, stay organized, plan things, stay seated, and think before acting. ADHD has three symptom clusters including inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.  It comes in different types including “inattentive type” (some refer to this as “ADD”), “hyperactive/impulsive type” and “combined type” (meaning a combination of inattentive type and hyperactive type).


Why should I care about ADHD?

Because ADHD is one of the most common disorders in children and adolescents, it is important to recognize it as it can be very impairing. More specifically, if it goes unrecognized or untreated, ADHD can lead to behavior issues; school difficulties such as failure and dropping out; substance use; depression and self-esteem problems; anxiety; and sleep difficulties. In adults, it can lead to poor work performance and productivity issues.


health_advice.ADHD.25What causes ADHD?

Because ADHD is a “brain-behavior” disorder, it is thought that there is a dysfunctional region in the brain, the frontal lobe, which is generally responsible for regulating concentration, organization, planning and impulse control. As a result of the dysfunction, those with ADHD exhibit symptoms such as distractibility, an inability to focus, an inability to sit still, and behavior problems, to name a few.


How common is ADHD?

Depending on the source, ADHD can affect 3-10 percent of children and adolescents. Contrary to previous beliefs, a person with ADHD does not simply “grow out of it.” Therefore, many of these children and adolescents still have symptoms into adulthood.


How is ADHD diagnosed?

Generally, your primary care physician or psychiatrist makes the diagnosis based on clinical information such as reviewing school records, feedback from teachers and parents, behavior observation and medical history. Sometimes psychological testing is done to clarify the diagnosis and determine whether there are any other issues such as a learning disability.


Can ADHD be prevented?

There is no known way to prevent ADHD.


How is ADHD treated?

Two ways. Behaviorally, including parenting skills management and training such as the use of sticker charts, behavioral modification plans, and token economies. There are also certain behavioral interventions that can be done in schools such as having the child sit closer to the front, taking extra time for tests, and/or using a separate room during tests. Secondly, medications are very effective in treating ADHD.


What action steps can be taken now for anyone with ADHD?

The first step is to recognize there is an issue. Disruptive behavior and poor school performance are usually key indicators. Secondly, discussing concerns with either school personnel or making an appointment with your primary care doctor, pediatrician, or psychiatrist is very important.

From there, a treatment plan including behavior modification and/or medications will be developed if ADHD is diagnosed. It is important to follow these plans closely to prevent any other issue from developing, such as behavior problems, anxiety or depression.

Scott S. Orth, D.O. is a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic Health System-Austin. He received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, Missouri. He completed his residency and fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After residency, Dr. Orth practiced in a large health system in Florida in addition to private practice prior to returning to Minnesota.