Could You Have ADHD?

People with ADHD perceive too much at once and can’t filter out extraneous stimuli. Learn the signs of ADHD and how to ease symptoms.

Could You Have ADHD?
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In spite of intelligence and enthusiasm, someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experiences daily life as a constant struggle. Boredom, procrastination, disorganization and a tendency to say yes to too many projects can be dizzyingly stressful, while emotional intensity, impulsivity and a tendency to interrupt make for chaotic relationships.

The principal characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Behavior can be predominantly inattentive (loses tools, makes careless mistakes, is easily distracted, leaves tasks uncompleted), predominantly hyperactive-impulsive (feels restless and fidgety, interrupts, blurts out comments, has difficulty relaxing or waiting) or both.

Originally known as “minimal brain dysfunction,” then “attention deficient disorder,” the condition has had one misleading moniker after another. Those of us with ADHD don’t suffer from a deficit of attention—if anything, we have a surfeit of it. We’re vulnerable to distraction because we perceive too much at once.

The cause may be a lack of blood flow and electrical stimulation to the frontal cortex— the area of the brain involved in prioritizing, focusing and choosing words thoughtfully rather than blurting them out. Scans of people with ADHD usually show reduced activity in this decision-making area of the brain, notes Daniel G. Amen, M.D., founder of Amen Clinics Inc., two-time board-certified psychiatrist and best-selling author of Unleash the Power of the Female Brain (Harmony). He says there are six different types of attention deficit disorder, and knowing which type afflicts you is key to a targeted treatment plan.

Some researchers suggest that “executive functioning disorder” is a better description. “ADHD people think in a tangential, nonlinear, circular way,” says Hal Elliott, M.D., residency program director and associate professor at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City. “One thing reminds them of something else, which reminds them of something else. People with ADHD tend to be writers, musicians, visionaries, inventors and people who rock the boat at work—they come up with better ways to do things. There’s nothing wrong with being a nonlinear person except that it can make you miserable in this linear world we live in.”

About 4 to 5 percent of American adults suffer from the condition, and they work 22 fewer days than their ADHD-free co-workers annually due to their symptoms, according to a national screening survey conducted by Harvard Medical School. A history of childhood ADHD is one criterion, and there is evidence that ADHD runs in families. According to the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA, ADHD is generally a chronic disorder, with 30 to 50 percent of those individuals diagnosed in childhood continuing to have symptoms into adulthood.

Adults with past or current symptoms of ADHD are also at a higher risk for other problems, including depression. A study in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that 59 percent of ADHD patients suffered from major depression at some point, compared with 40 percent of the non-ADHD group; the respective ratio for anxiety disorder was 21 percent versus 8 percent.