woman-with-laptop-daydreamingAttention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often thought of as a childhood condition, but many adults in the United States live with the behavioral disorder. In fact, 4.4% of people ages 18 to 44 have ADHD, and some people aren’t diagnosed until they’re older.

The behavioral health experts at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, help many adolescents (those 15 and older) and adults every year manage their ADHD symptoms, leading to improved quality of life.

If you think you have undiagnosed ADHD or you’ve struggled to ease symptoms, the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center provides evidence-based and compassionate care, from a complete evaluation to determine if you have the condition to providing treatment personalized to your needs and goals through medication management as well as individual and group psychotherapy. We’re here to help.

For more information on ADHD treatment for children, visit Nationwide Children's Hospital.

What is adult ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a mental health condition that can cause difficulty with paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

While we all might experience these problems at some point, in someone with ADHD, they’re severe enough to cause ongoing challenges in multiple areas of life. These symptoms are persistent and disruptive and can often be traced back to childhood.

Adult ADHD occurs in:

  • Adults who were diagnosed as children, but symptoms continue into adulthood.
  • Adults being diagnosed for the first time, but they’ve experienced symptoms since they were younger. Either the symptoms were ignored or misdiagnosed.

Hyperactivity as a symptom is typically less present in adults than in children, and many adults with ADHD struggle with memory and concentration issues. It can also be difficult to diagnose in adults, because some of the symptoms are similar to those in other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

What are common types of ADHD?

There are three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive ADHD – Inability to pay attention and distractibility are key characteristics of this type, which historically has been referred to as attention-deficit disorder (ADD).
  • Hyperactive and impulsive ADHD – A person displays hyperactivity and impulsivity with this disorder.
  • Combined ADHD – This type causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

What are symptoms of ADHD in adults?

Symptoms for ADHD can vary from person to person, in type as well as severity. No two people experience ADHD the same way. Here are some possible symptoms of ADHD based on the type you might have:

Inattentive ADHD

  • Difficulty focusing on details or makes careless mistakes
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty listening or following instructions
  • Disorganization, including losing belongings
  • Inability to complete tasks that demand sustained mental effort
  • High distractibility

Hyperactive and impulsive ADHD

  • Constant fidgeting or squirming
  • Difficulty staying seated
  • Restlessness or need to run or climb excessively
  • Trouble remaining quiet
  • Excessive talking or blurting out
  • Difficulty waiting or not wanting to take turns
  • Constantly interrupting or intruding on others

Symptoms of ADHD often worsen with stress, conflict or increased demands in your environment.

Causes or risk factors for ADHD

Causes of ADHD are often not known. Inherited or environmental factors may play a role in this condition. We do know there are certain risk factors that may increase your chances of developing ADHD. Those include:

  • Having a blood relative, like a sibling or a parent, with ADHD or other similar mental health condition
  • Being born prematurely
  • Being born to a person who smoke, drank or used drugs while pregnant with you
  • Having exposure to certain environmental toxins, such as lead, as a child

It’s important to remember that just because you have one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily develop ADHD, and you can still develop ADHD even if you don’t have any of these risks.

Can you develop ADHD as an adult?

The answer is mostly no. Symptoms of ADHD don’t generally begin in adulthood without a severe brain injury. Usually, the symptoms can be traced back to childhood when they were either ignored or misdiagnosed.

Sometimes adults can cover up or manage ADHD symptoms on their own, so they’re not aware they have the condition. However, a major stressful event or new demands, such as having a baby or starting a new job, can make ADHD symptoms much more apparent.

How is adult ADHD diagnosed?

ADHD can be difficult to diagnose in adults, mainly because the symptoms can be similar to other mental and behavioral health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. The ADHD specialists at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center have specialized training in identifying the disorder in adults.

Tools we might use to diagnose you with ADHD include:

  • Physical tests, to rule out other possible causes of symptoms
  • A complete history, to ask any questions about familial history, current medical issues and medications, and history of symptoms
  • Cognitive and academic testing, to explore factors that may be related to your difficulties
  • ADHD rating scales and a psychiatric evaluation, to assess your symptoms

While there’s no definitive test for diagnosing ADHD, our experts will use a combination of these diagnostic tools and decades of experience to provide the most accurate diagnosis to get you the best care.

Adult ADHD treatment

Treatment for ADHD in adults is similar to the treatment of the condition in children. It typically involves some combination of medicine, counseling or psychotherapy and learning new coping skills.

ADHD treatment options include:

  • Medications – Stimulants that include amphetamine or methylphenidate are usually prescribed, but there are some nonstimulant medications, including some antidepressants, that can be beneficial to people with ADHD.
  • Psychotherapy – Forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) that are common for treating ADHD include cognitive-behavior therapy and marital or family counseling. Individual and group therapy can help you learn new skills for better time management and impulse control, and work with you to improve relationships and self-esteem.

How to manage ADHD without medication

Medication helps many people with ADHD, but psychotherapy can also be an effective additional or standalone treatment for some. Therapy can help you learn new coping skills, and you can also integrate certain lifestyle changes that can relieve some symptoms.

Lifestyle changes that can positively impact your ADHD include:

  • Exercising
  • Getting enough restful sleep
  • Improving nutrition
  • Practicing meditation or other mindfulness techniques
  • Creating structure and organization in your day through calendars and task lists
  • Finding someone who will help hold you accountable and celebrate completed tasks

Make sure you discuss with your health care provider the best treatment approach for your ADHD symptoms, and don’t stop taking current medications without first talking to your doctor.

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