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In this video, we give you a brif introduction to ADHD along with various resources below to help you with the process of diagnosis and treatment.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects people’s behaviour. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse.
Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change, such as when they start school.
Most cases are diagnosed when children are under 12 years old, but sometimes it’s diagnosed later in childhood.
Sometimes ADHD was not recognised when someone was a child, and they are diagnosed later as an adult.
The symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults who were diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems.
People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families.
Research has also identified a number of possible differences in the brains of people with ADHD when compared with those without the condition.
Other factors suggested as potentially having a role in ADHD include:
ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it’s more common in people with learning difficulties.
Many children go through phases where they’re restless or inattentive. This is often completely normal and does not necessarily mean they have ADHD.
But you should discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher, their school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) or a GP if you think their behaviour may be different from most children their age.
It’s also a good idea to speak to a GP if you’re an adult and think you may have ADHD, but were not diagnosed with the condition as a child.
For children with ADHD, although there’s no cure, it can be managed with appropriate educational support, advice and support for parents and affected children, alongside medicine, if necessary.
For adults with ADHD, medicine is often the first treatment offered, although psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may also help.
Looking after a child with ADHD can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that they cannot help their behaviour.
Some day-to-day activities might be more difficult for you and your child, including:
Adults with ADHD may find they have problems with:
Some adults may also have issues with relationships or social interaction.
Treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can help relieve the symptoms and make the condition much less of a problem in day-to-day life.
ADHD can be treated using medicine or therapy, but a combination of both is often best.
Treatment is usually arranged by a specialist, such as a paediatrician or psychiatrist, although the condition may be monitored by a GP.
There are 5 types of medicine licensed for the treatment of ADHD:
These medicines are not a permanent cure for ADHD but may help someone with the condition concentrate better, be less impulsive, feel calmer, and learn and practise new skills.
Some medicines need to be taken every day, but some can be taken just on school days. Treatment breaks are occasionally recommended to assess whether the medicine is still needed.
If you were not diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood, a GP and specialist can discuss which medicines and therapies are suitable for you.
If you or your child is prescribed one of these medicines, you’ll probably be given small doses at first, which may then be gradually increased. You or your child will need to see a GP for regular check-ups to ensure the treatment is working effectively and check for signs of any side effects or problems.
It’s important to let the GP know about any side effects and talk to them if you feel you need to stop or change treatment.
Your specialist will discuss how long you should take your treatment but, in many cases, treatment is continued for as long as it is helping.
Methylphenidate is the most commonly used medicine for ADHD. It belongs to a group of medicines called stimulants, which work by increasing activity in the brain, particularly in areas that play a part in controlling attention and behaviour.
Methylphenidate may be offered to adults, teenagers and children over the age of 5 with ADHD.
The medicine can be taken as either immediate-release tablets (small doses taken 2 to 3 times a day) or as modified-release tablets (taken once a day in the morning, with the dose released throughout the day).
Common side effects of methylphenidate include:
Lisdexamfetamine is a medicine that stimulates certain parts of the brain. It improves concentration, helps focus attention and reduces impulsive behaviour.
It may be offered to teenagers and children over the age of 5 with ADHD if at least 6 weeks of treatment with methylphenidate has not helped.
Adults may be offered lisdexamfetamine as the first-choice medicine instead of methylphenidate.
Lisdexamfetamine comes in capsule form, taken once a day.
Common side effects of lisdexamfetamine include:
Dexamfetamine is similar to lisdexamfetamine and works in the same way. It may be offered to adults, teenagers and children over the age of 5 with ADHD.
Dexamfetamine is usually taken as a tablet 2 to 4 times a day, although an oral solution is also available.
Common side effects of dexamfetamine include:
Atomoxetine works differently from other ADHD medicines.
It’s a selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), which means it increases the amount of a chemical in the brain called noradrenaline.
This chemical passes messages between brain cells, and increasing it can aid concentration and help control impulses.
Atomoxetine may be offered to adults, teenagers and children over the age of 5 if it’s not possible to use methylphenidate or lisdexamfetamine. It’s also licensed for use in adults if symptoms of ADHD are confirmed.
Atomoxetine comes in capsule form, usually taken once or twice a day.
Common side effects of atomoxetine include:
Atomoxetine has also been linked to some more serious side effects that are important to look out for, including suicidal thoughts and liver damage.
If either you or your child begin to feel depressed or suicidal while taking this medicine, speak to your doctor.
Guanfacine acts on part of the brain to improve attention, and it also reduces blood pressure.
It may be offered to teenagers and children over the age of 5 if it’s not possible to use methylphenidate or lisdexamfetamine. Guanfacine should not be offered to adults with ADHD.
Guanfacine is usually taken as a tablet once a day, in the morning or evening.
Common side effects include:
As well as taking medicine, different therapies can be useful in treating ADHD in children, teenagers and adults. Therapy is also effective in treating additional problems, such as conduct or anxiety disorders, that may appear with ADHD.
Here are some of the therapies that may be used.
Psychoeducation means you or your child will be encouraged to discuss ADHD and its effects. It can help children, teenagers and adults make sense of being diagnosed with ADHD, and can help you to cope and live with the condition.
Behaviour therapy provides support for carers of children with ADHD and may involve teachers as well as parents. Behaviour therapy usually involves behaviour management, which uses a system of rewards to encourage your child to try to control their ADHD.
If your child has ADHD, you can identify types of behaviour you want to encourage, such as sitting at the table to eat. Your child is then given some sort of small reward for good behaviour.
For teachers, behaviour management involves learning how to plan and structure activities, and to praise and encourage children for even very small amounts of progress.
If your child has ADHD, specially tailored parent training and education programmes can help you learn specific ways of talking to your child, and playing and working with them to improve their attention and behaviour.
You may also be offered parent training before your child is formally diagnosed with ADHD.
These programmes are usually arranged in groups of around 10 to 12 parents. A programme usually consists of 10 to 16 meetings, lasting up to 2 hours each.
Being offered a parent training and education programme does not mean you have been a bad parent – it aims to teach parents and carers about behaviour management, while increasing confidence in your ability to help your child and improve your relationship.
Social skills training involves your child taking part in role-play situations and aims to teach them how to behave in social situations by learning how their behaviour affects others.
CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. A therapist would try to change how you or your child feels about a situation, which would in turn potentially change their behaviour.
CBT can be carried out with a therapist individually or in a group.
There are other ways of treating ADHD that some people with the condition find helpful, such as cutting out certain foods and taking supplements. However, there’s no strong evidence these work, and they should not be attempted without medical advice.
People with ADHD should eat a healthy, balanced diet. Do not cut out foods before seeking medical advice.
Some people may notice a link between types of food and worsening ADHD symptoms. If this is the case, keep a diary of what you eat and drink, and what behaviour follows. Discuss this with a GP, who may refer you to a dietitian (a healthcare professional who specialises in nutrition).
Some studies have suggested that supplements of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may be beneficial for people with ADHD, although the evidence supporting this is very limited.
It’s advisable to talk to a GP before using any supplements, because some can react unpredictably with medicine or make it less effective.
You should also remember that some supplements should not be taken long term, as they can reach dangerous levels in your body.
If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD:
The charity AADD-UK has a list of support groups across the UK, including groups for adults, parents and carers.