Guide to ADHD: Symptoms, Signs, Diagnosis and Treatment

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a serious medical problem that affects people's ability to concentrate and learn for a long time, but unfortunately, there are still people who underestimate the importance of the phenomenon and don’t know how to recognize it. First of all, it’s important to know that in a person without ADHD, the hormone dopamine is normally released between cells in the brain, making for the process where one can focus on something which occurs thanks to a hormonal balance in the mechanism that prevents dopamine from releasing uncontrollably.


In people with ADHD, this mechanism is "too effective" and keeps all dopamine in the cells, creating a condition in which this essential hormone does not pass between the cells, and the person has a short thread of thought preventing him or her from focusing on something for a long time. This focus is a bit different when it comes to computer or television time because these devices provide a high level of stimulation, and therefore release addictive substances that "suck in" the viewer.


The failure to release dopamine creates a chain reaction that affects about 15 other chemical substances in the brain, including adrenaline. While dopamine passes properly between cells, as is the case with those who do not suffer from the phenomenon, adrenalin is released in the brain. Therefore, those with ADHD - whose dopamine transition does not function properly - have a constant deficiency of this hormone. Because of this, they function best under stress: getting a paper done close to when its due or studying for an important test the night before - because it is this feeling of stress that releases the adrenalin in their brain, and then dopamine starts to move slightly better between cells, to the point where they can concentrate almost as well as anyone who doesn’t have the disorder.

A person with ADHD is born this way, and therefore, aren’t familiar with an existence of mental quiet and being able to focus. The main concern for a person suffering from this disorder is the personal experience of difficulty in general, not necessarily in terms of education or work. Often, people with attention disorders are intelligent and therefore succeed in school, however, their life experience can be challenging: they live in a world full of stimuli that they can’t filter, it is hard for them to sleep at night and get up in the morning, and dealing with anything that requires organization or adaptation to changes is not a simple feat for them.

Proper treatment of people with attention deficit disorders involves a medicinal solution along with cognitive behavioral training. Ritalin, the substance that is known as a treatment for those with ADHD, causes the mechanism that hoards dopamine in the cells to stop working for a few hours, but it is effective for only 85% of those who suffer from this disorder. The remaining 15% are slightly different and Ritalin cannot prevent dopamine from remaining in the cells. For these people, special drugs have been developed which are less common but can still be obtained through appropriate treatment authorities.


Characteristics of people with ADHD

All of the following criteria are related to regulatory mechanisms, which improve slightly as age increases, but they do not always function the right way in people with ADHD.

1. Unregulated circadian clock - The sleep and awake cycles of those with ADHD are delayed, and they are unable to go to bed early or get up early. For them, falling asleep at a reasonable hour is similar to going to bed at 5 pm for a person who does not have the disorder. In addition, in the morning it takes them a long time to recover and they often wake up without appetite.
2. Uncontrolled hunger and satiety - Children who suffer from ADHD don’t feel hungry most of the time and therefore don’t eat, or vice versa - are used to eating even when they aren’t hungry and therefore eat all the time.
3. Emotional instability – People with ADHD experience difficulty getting out of emotional states, giving up on a line of thought, changing in a short time and adapting to emotional and tangible changes in the environment.
4. Defective sensory processing – Those with ADHD are unable to filter stimuli which is often expressed in high sensitivity to noise, light, touch and other external stimuli. This needs to be taken into consideration because sometimes one might think that a child is spoiled, just because they won’t wear a particular shirt or refuse to be in a loud place.


According to the DSM-5, for one to be diagnosed with ADHD they need to experience: 

1. A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. For children – 6 or more symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months. For older adolescents and adults (age 17 and older), five or more symptoms are required.

2. Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms present prior to age 12 years.

3. Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms present in two or more settings (e.g. at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).

4. Clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, academic or occupational functioning.

5. Symptoms do not occur exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder and are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g. mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, personality disorder, substance intoxication or withdrawal).In general, when ADHD is diagnosed, it must be ascertained that the person has no autism at any level and no manic depression (2 problems that may be related to attention disorders).


Criteria for ADHD

If you find that at least 6 (for children) or 5 (for adolescents and adults) of the following 9 criteria are met, there is a risk of ADHD in the subject:

Symptoms of inattention

  • Often fails to give close attention to detail or makes mistakes
  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or workplace duties
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities
  • Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities

Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity

  • Often fidgets with or taps hands and feet, or squirms in seat
  • in situations when remaining seated is expected, they leave their seat often 
  • Often runs and climbs in situations where it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to feeling restless)
  • Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often ‘on the go’, acting as if ‘driven by a motor’
  • Often talks excessively
  • Often blurts out answers before a question has been completed
  • Often has difficulty waiting their turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others

 If you have any concern that a member of your family may suffer from ADHD, it is worth checking out - you may save them futile effort they would invest in trying to adapt without help. 

Diagnosing ADHD

Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a medical procedure that includes a review of the individual and his/her parents’ history since this phenomenon has a very strong hereditary tendency. It is advisable to perform a medical and psychiatric examination in order to identify whether there are comorbidities such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety. Neglecting the treatment of these existing disorders will prevent effective treatment of the attention deficit disorder. A good examination is one that serves as a tool that will allow the subject to identify failure points and learn how to avoid them. In addition, repeated testing after administration of Ritalin is also an effective diagnostic tool, when a person who has not seen improvement after consuming the substance - is likely to not have been suffering from ADHD after all.

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