Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder

(ADHD and ADD; Hyperkinetic Syndrome; Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder)

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic behavioral disorder. It is behavior that is hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive. These must persist for at least six months and be present in two environments (home, work, or school). ADHD affects children, adolescents, and adults.


The cause of ADHD is unknown. It most likely is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. There also appears to be a genetic factor since ADHD can run in families.

Child's Brain

Child Brain

A chemical imbalance in the brain may be responsible for ADHD.

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors

A risk factor increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors for ADHD are:

  • Sex: male
  • Parent or sibling with ADHD


All children display some of the symptoms of ADHD. Children with ADHD have symptoms that are more severe and consistent. They often have difficulty in school and with their family and peers.

ADHD can last into adulthood. It can cause problems with relationships, job performance, and job retention.

There are three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive (classic "ADD")
  • Hyperactive-impulsive
  • Combined

Inattentive (Classic "ADD")

  • Easily distracted by sights and sounds
  • Doesn't pay attention to detail
  • Doesn't seem to listen when spoken to
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Doesn't follow through on instructions or tasks
  • Avoids or dislikes activities that require longer periods of mental effort
  • Loses or forgets items necessary for tasks
  • Is forgetful in day-to-day activities


  • Is restless, fidgets, and squirms
  • Runs and climbs and is not able to stay seated
  • Blurts out answers before hearing the entire question
  • Has difficulty playing quietly
  • Talks excessively
  • Interrupts others
  • Has difficulty waiting in line or waiting for a turn


Combined ADHD is the most common type.

  • Has a combination of the above symptoms

Many people with ADHD also often have:


There is no standard test to diagnose ADHD. It is done by a trained mental health professional. Family and teachers are involved as well.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following guidelines be used for diagnosis in children 6-12 years of age:

  • Diagnosis should be initiated if a child shows signs of difficulty in:
    • School
    • Academic achievement
    • Relationships with peers and family
  • During diagnosis, the following information should be gathered directly from parents, caregivers, teachers, or other school professionals:
    • Assessment of symptoms of ADHD in different settings (home and school)
    • Age at which symptoms started
    • How much the behavior affects the child's ability to function
  • The professional should examine the child for:
    • Other conditions that might be causing or aggravating symptoms
    • Learning and language problems
    • Aggression
    • Disruptive behavior
    • Depression or anxiety
    • Psychotic symptoms
    • Personality disorder
  • For a diagnosis of ADHD to be made, symptoms must:
    • Be present in two or more of the child's settings
    • Interfere with the child's ability to function for at least six months
    • Fit a list of symptoms detailed in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association


The goal is to improve the child's ability to function. Doctors should work together with parents and school staff. Together, they can set realistic goals and evaluate the child's response.

Treatments include:


Medications can help control behavior and increase attention span. Stimulants are the most common choice for ADHD. They increase activity in parts of the brain that appear to be less active in children with ADHD. Stimulant medications include:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate, Daytrana)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Amphetamine (Adderall)
  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse)—This medication was recently approved to treat adults with ADHD. It can also be used to treat children aged 6-12 years.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about ADHD medication. There are possible risks with these medications, including cardiovascular events (eg, stroke , heart attack ) and psychiatric problems (eg, hearing voices, becoming manic).

Because of the rare risk of serious heart problems, the American Heart Association suggests that children have an electrocardiogram (ECG) before starting stimulant medication for ADHD.

Other drugs include:

  • Antidepressants—such as imipramine (Janimine, Tofranil), venlafaxine (Effexor), and bupropion (Wellbutrin)
  • Clonidine (used for Tourette's syndrome )—to treat impulsivity

Behavior Therapy

Children who take medication and practice therapy do better than those who just use medication. Therapy sessions focus on practicing social and problem-solving skills. Counselors will also teach parents and teachers to help the child through positive reinforcement. This could involve change in the classroom as well as in parenting style. Often, daily report cards are exchanged between parents and teachers.


There are no guidelines for preventing ADHD because the cause is unknown. Proper treatment can prevent problems later in life.


Attention Deficit Disorder Association

Attention Deficit Disorder Resources

Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)


About Kids Health

Canadian Psychiatric Association


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . 4th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association;2000.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: . Accessed February 9, 2008.

Children's Health Topics. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: . Accessed June 24, 2008.

Factshhet ADHD. The National Mental Health Association website. Available at: . Accessed June24, 2088.

FDA directs ADHD drug manufacturers to notify patients about cardiovascular adverse events and psychiatric adverse events. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: . Accessed on February 13, 2008.

Methylphenidate and clonidine help children with ADHD and tics. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: . Accessed February 13, 2008.

Rappley M. Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. NEJM . 2005;352:165-173.

Risks for ADHD drugs outlined in patient guides. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: . Updated April 2007. Accessed on June 27, 2008.

The Truth About Diagnosing and Treating ADHD. American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: . Accessed June 24, 2008.

Yourchild-ADHD. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: . Accessed June 24, 2008.

*¹ 4/30/2008 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Vetter V, Elia J, Erickson C, et al. Cardiovascular monitoring of children and adolescents with heart disease receiving stimulant drugs. Circulation. American Heart Association website. Available at: . Accessed April 30, 2008.

*² 4/30/2008 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : FDA approval letter. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: . Accessed April 30, 2008.

Last reviewed February 2008 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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