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Understanding ADHD: symptoms, causes and treatment

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by a pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Understanding ADHD is essential for those who live with it and their loved ones, as it impacts daily life, relationships and learning.


This article will provide an overview of the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for ADHD, aiming to enlighten and support individuals affected by this condition.


What is ADHD?

young boy child sitting in a classroom

ADHD is one of the most common mental health disorders affecting children and it can continue into adulthood. While everyone may experience inattention or hyperactivity at times, those with ADHD have heightened and persistent symptoms that significantly impair their social, academic, or occupational functioning.


Symptoms of ADHD


ADHD symptoms are typically divided into two categories: inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Individuals with ADHD may exhibit symptoms from one or both categories.


Inattention

  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities

  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly

  • Struggles to follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or chores

  • Has trouble organising tasks and activities

  • Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort

  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities

  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli

  • Forgetful in daily activities


Hyperactivity-Impulsivity

  • Fidgets with hands or feet, or squirms in seat

  • Leaves seat in situations where remaining seated is expected

  • Runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate

  • Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly

  • "On the go" or acts as if "driven by a motor"

  • Talks excessively

  • Blurts out answers before questions have been completed

  • Difficulty waiting their turn

  • Interrupts or intrudes on others' conversations or games


Causes of ADHD


The exact causes of ADHD are not fully understood, but research suggests that genetics play a significant role. Other potential factors include:

  • Brain structure and function: differences in certain areas of the brain may be linked to ADHD symptoms.

  • Premature birth or low birth weight

  • Exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead, during pregnancy or at a young age

  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy

  • Rarely, damage to the frontal lobes of the brain or disorders affecting brain development


The role of genetics in ADHD


Family and twin studies indicate a strong genetic component to ADHD. If a parent or sibling has ADHD, the likelihood of an individual having the disorder increases.


Treatment for ADHD


There is no cure for ADHD, but a range of treatments can help manage symptoms. Treatment plans are typically tailored to the individual's specific needs and may include medication, therapy, education or training, or a combination of approaches.


Medications


Medications are a common part of treatment for ADHD. Stimulants, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines, are the most widely used ADHD medications. These can help improve symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity in many people with ADHD.


Non-stimulant medications, such as Atomoxetine and some antidepressants, may also be effective in treating ADHD symptoms, especially in individuals who do not respond well to stimulants or have co-existing conditions such as anxiety or depression.


Behavioural therapy


Behavioural therapy is another key component of ADHD treatment, especially for younger children. This type of therapy focuses on changing negative behaviours into positive ones and can involve:

  • Behaviour modification, such as rewarding good behaviour

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which helps change negative thought patterns

  • Parent training and education to better manage a child's behaviour


Educational Support


Children with ADHD may benefit from educational support at school, such as:

  • Individualised Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans

  • Classroom accommodations, such as extra time on tests or seating arrangements that minimise distractions

  • Special education services


Receiving an ADHD diagnosis early in life can help children in the long term as they can benefit from specialised support during their formative years. Learn about child ADHD assessments here.


adult student writing in notepad

Lifestyle and home remedies


Certain lifestyle changes and home remedies can also help manage ADHD symptoms:

  • Establish a routine and stick to it

  • Organise everyday items and tasks

  • Use planners and reminders for tasks

  • Limit distractions

  • Encourage physical activity and exercise

  • Promote a healthy diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids

  • Ensure adequate sleep


The importance of early diagnosis and intervention


Early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve the outcome for children with ADHD. Timely treatment can help manage symptoms, reduce the risk of developing co-existing conditions, and improve overall functioning.


Our ADHD specialist consultant psychiatrists regularly assess children for ADHD, and we are also seeing an increasing number of adult ADHD assessments for those who have struggled with symptoms since childhood. Assessments are available at Schoen Clinic Centre for Mental Health in London.


Overcoming the challenges of ADHD


ADHD can pose significant challenges, but with the right support and treatment, individuals with the condition can lead successful and fulfilling lives. It's essential to focus on the strengths of those with ADHD and provide an environment that helps them thrive.


How to effectively manage ADHD


Understanding ADHD is the first step toward effective management. Recognising the symptoms, knowing the potential causes, and exploring treatment options can empower those affected by ADHD and their families. By working closely with healthcare providers and educators, individuals with ADHD can achieve their full potential and lead productive lives.


Society must continue raising awareness about ADHD, dispelling myths and providing support to those in need. With the right approach, the challenges of ADHD can be overcome, allowing individuals to harness their unique talents and abilities.


Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of ADHD, please seek professional help. With proper care and attention, ADHD can be managed effectively, paving the way for a brighter and more focused future. Contact the Schoen Clinic Chelsea team today if you or someone you know needs help.

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