Most of us have moments when we can’t keep still, concentrate, or avoid careless mistakes. But when a child or adult continually struggles with hyperactivity, focus, or impulsivity, he may be
diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The CDC has called the disorder a serious public health problem and one of the most common
neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood.
Estimates of the numbers of children and adults who have the disorder vary, in part because of different
definitions used to diagnose ADHD. At least five percent of school children—and possibly as many as
11%– are affected by the disorder, with boys more often impacted than girls, according to the CDC.
Children with the disorder may have difficulty paying attention in school, keeping still, or controlling
their behavior. They also may take unnecessary risks or be impulsive or disruptive.
Difficulties may continue into adulthood, and symptoms may change or appear different at older ages.
Adults with ADHD are more likely to struggle with memory and concentration. They may have trouble
staying organized, meeting commitments, or completing tasks.
Some aspects of the disorder are still unknown, including exact causes and why the incidence of it
appears to be rising.
The disorder may run in families, with genetics playing an important role. Researchers believe that
those who develop the disorder are likely to have a genetic predisposition to it, but stress and other
environmental factors may influence how it develops in them.
But researchers have yet to pinpoint causes, and studies are being conducted to examine possible risk
factors, including premature delivery, brain injury, lead exposure, and alcohol and tobacco use during
Diagnosing the disorder can be difficult because similar symptoms may be caused by other problems,
such as stress, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression, says Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin family
practice medicine clinic.
If you suspect you or your child has the disorder, the first step is to visit the doctor for an assessment.
You may need hearing, vision and other tests to rule out issues with symptoms similar to ADHD.
Another step is a detailed questionnaire to determine if symptoms form a persistent pattern of
inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that may interfere with how you function and develop.
Once you or a loved one has been diagnosed, Dr. Lamy can help explore treatment options.
It may be useful to decide how the disorder is most impacting or impairing your life in order to focus
on treatment to address those areas.
Conventional treatment has often involved the use of certain medications, as well as counseling and
behavioral therapy to try to learn new skills to improve behavior and outcomes.
Typically, treatment drugs are stimulants to boost attention by impacting the action of
neurotransmitters. But stimulants such as Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and Dexedrine may have side
effects which can be serious enough for some people to consider whether the benefits outweigh the
risks. In particular, the FDA has raised concern about giving these medications to anyone with existing
high blood pressure or heart defects, based on reported deaths, heart attacks, strokes, and arrhythmias
in people who used them.
Healthy eating, meditation, exercise, sleep, and other positive lifestyle choices can be an important part
of reducing symptoms.
Figuring out what works can require time, patience, and monitoring.
It may be useful to try different lifestyle options to see what might help ease symptoms. Options
include limiting time spent on phones, computers, and TV; eating a diet low in sugar and processed
food, with lots of vegetables, beans and nuts; getting at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night; taking up
meditation or martial arts; taking supplements with omega-3 fatty acids; and checking for deficiencies in levels of zinc, magnesium and iron.
Dr. Lamy can discuss such options with you to develop the best strategy for coping with the disorder.
The first step is making an appointment to evaluate symptoms which could ultimately be life changing.