Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood brain disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity). These symptoms can make it difficult for a child with ADHD to succeed in school, get along with other children or adults, or finish tasks at home.

Brain imaging studies have revealed that, in youth with ADHD, the brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed, on average, by about 3 years.1 The delay is most pronounced in brain regions involved in thinking, paying attention, and planning. More recent studies have found that the outermost layer of the brain, the cortex, shows delayed maturation overall,2 and a brain structure important for proper communications between the two halves of the brain shows an abnormal growth pattern.3 These delays and abnormalities may underlie the hallmark symptoms of ADHD and help to explain how the disorder may develop.

Treatments can relieve many symptoms of ADHD, but there is currently no cure for the disorder. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives. Researchers are developing more effective treatments and interventions, and using new tools such as brain imaging, to better understand ADHD and to find more effective ways to treat and prevent it.

Attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder, or ADHD, is a condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, or a combination.

About 60 percent of children with ADHD in the United States become adults with ADHD; that’s about 4 percent of the adult population, or 8 million adults.

Less than 20 percent of adults with ADHD have been diagnosed or treated, and only about one-quarter of those adults seek help.

Thought to be biological and most often genetic, ADHD takes place very early in brain development. Adults with ADHD may exhibit the same symptoms they had as children, and although hyperactivity often diminishes by adulthood, inattentiveness and impulsivity may persist.

Symptoms

ADHD symptoms often include an inability to focus, disorganization, and restlessness. Adults with ADHD may have a hard time organizing things, listening to instructions, remembering details, or difficulty completing tasks, which can affect their relationships at home, school, and work.

People who have ADHD may exhibit different symptoms, and they may experience them at different levels of severity, ranging from mild to significant impairment.

ADHD and mental health disorders

Adults with ADHD are likely to have an anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, or other co morbid psychiatric disorder. (The term “co morbid” refers to a condition that exists with another.)

About 50 percent of adults with ADHD also suffer from an anxiety disorder. Adult ADHD symptoms that coexist with an anxiety disorder or other disorders may significantly impair the ability to function.

Diagnosis

Proper diagnosis relies on a comprehensive clinical evaluation by a health professional, who will take into account personal history, self-reported symptoms, and mental-status testing, as well as  early development problems and symptoms of inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, and emotional instability.

Overlapping symptoms of co morbid psychiatric conditions often complicate getting an accurate diagnosis.

Resource: Anxiety and Depression Association of America www.adaa.org

Resource: National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov