Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on:

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Lately, your partner has been complaining about your mess. You might be looking for your car keys every day. People feel interrupted by you sometimes. If you recognize yourself in these situations, you might have a reason to ask… “Do I have ADHD?”. You know that you are not trying to be difficult; you have always been that way. 

What is ADHD?

ADHD is not a learning disability, yet it might affect learning. It is a disorder in how the brain develops. That is why it is usually diagnosed during infancy or childhood. 

ADHD is not only for kids; about 4.4% of adults still have ADHD. People with ADHD are often described as hyperactive or impulsive. Their attention sometimes seems in another place. Some people will interpret your behavior as defiant or difficult to handle. 

The diagnosis is more common for men than for women. Women with ADHD present more with inattentive symptoms than with hyperactive symptoms.

That is also why it often gets more diagnosed for men at a younger age. Women are usually also diagnosed later in life when one of their children gets diagnosed. Hyperactive or behavioral symptoms motivate parents and teachers to look for help quicker. Keep reading to find out what the symptoms and presentation of ADHD look like.

What are the three presentations of ADHD? 

A craft illustration for adhd mind.

The “American Psychiatric Association defines three presentations of ADHD. The excessive amount of symptoms will define your presentation

  1. Combined
  2. Inattentive
  3. Hyperactive-impulsive

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

Symptoms of ADHD usually already show when you are a kid. The DSM-5 categorizes it as a dysfunction in the brain. We can categorize the symptoms under inattention, impulsive or hyperactive. There are 18 core symptoms that can define people with ADHD. 

Symptoms of inattention

1. Carelessness

Since a young age, you have taken a look at your tests at school, and you could see potential there. You always lose many points with careless mistakes. You still are not focused on details and would rather give that task to other coworkers.

2. Difficulty keeping your focus

Keeping your focus is difficult unless you are very interested in it.

3. Not listening

Your boyfriend is speaking to you, in the meanwhile you think about what you will eat. Suddenly you hear, “are you even listening to me?”. Quickly you repeat what he said. This is not the first time someone describes you as a dreamer or someone who is not in the conversation.

4. Often sidetracked while working on a task

Has it ever happened to you that you want to do the dishes? Half an hour later, you seem to be reorganizing your wardrobe. Your wardrobe is organized, yet those dishes are still dirty. You saw one task, and something else stole your attention.

5. Not very organized

A disorganized desk, one of the biggest adhd symptoms.

You have order in your disorder, or you don’t. When going to an appointment, you always think you have five minutes. Your plan seems to fail, and you arrive late again.

6. Avoidance tasks that take a long time

When you know that something might take a long time, there is a big chance that you will avoid it. In general, you don’t like large projects that take a long time. Procrastinating tasks is very common for you.

7. Lose things

Losing things is your second nature. Forgetting books, keys or wallets is a common problem for you. Your parents might have made it a habit to check your backpack before leaving the house as a kid.

8. Easily distracted by other things

Your other thoughts and feelings might distract you from your work. In conversations, you also might skip from one subject to another.

9. Forgetfulness even in daily tasks

You need a list to check when to clean the house, when to do groceries, or you forget to turn off the lights.

Symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity

1. Fidgeting

You often are tapping your feet or hands while sitting or standing. Being too long in the same position might make you squirm.

2. Can’t stay seated

When you were a child, your chair was your personal monkey bar. Sitting on the chair was difficult. 

3. Feeling restless

As a child, you were running around or climbing where it was not appropriate. As an adult, you feel very restless, having to stay still in a situation.

4.  Difficulty with quiet activities

Being quiet or staying quiet is a big task for you. 

5. Always “on the go.”

Illustration of hyperactivity, one of the biggest adhd symptoms.

You have no “off” button. People notice that you are always on the go. Others might interpret this as rushing. You feel very driven to keep ongoing.

6. Talking excessively

You talk a lot; people can’t keep up with your conversations sometimes.

7. Can’t wait for your turn in a conversation

You have the habit of responding to a question before they can finish their sentences. It is difficult for you to be patient until your conversation partner finishes.

8. Interrupting others

When others are speaking, you tend to interrupt. You tend to use people’s things without waiting for permission. You seem to be an expert in overtaking activities or joining in a game without asking.

9. Has trouble waiting inline

Waiting in line or waiting for your turn makes you restless and uncomfortable. 

What causes ADHD?

The exact cause of ADHD is still not clear. The cause of ADHD is most likely a combination of three aspects. Those are genes, neurobiology, and your environment. 

There might be a hereditary link of about 76% percent. If your parents have ADHD, you have a higher chance of diagnosis as well. 

Some genes interplay with the environment. Genes involved in dopamine reception might have a big influence on what causes ADHD. 

Risks for ADHD are higher with the following environmental factors. 

Before birth

After birth

Research is not yet conclusive over all the risk factors. The amount of influence that all these factors play, is not clear yet either.

ADHD Test for Adults: What is the next step?

Seek a healthcare professional if you suffer from these symptoms. 

They can give you a proper diagnosis.

Seek out diagnosis

A diagnosis can help you map out the symptoms and set up a treatment plan with a specialist. The American Psychiatric Association formulated the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5. 

An adult should experience 5 of these symptoms for the past six months, with onset before age 12. Children should at least experience 6 or more of these symptoms over the same time span.

Further, there should be proof that it is disrupting your quality of life. The medic should not have another explanation. Symptoms should also be present in more than one category of your life, f.e. Family, work, or social circle.

Who can diagnose ADHD?

Only healthcare specialists licensed and specialized in mental health can diagnose you. In many countries you can go to doctors, psychiatrists or psychologists. 

How do they test ADHD?

Assessment of ADHD consists of a couple of steps.

1. Gather information

Your specialist will first conduct interviews with you and anyone else that can be of help. They might speak with your partner, colleagues, family and/or teachers as well.

They will ask about your symptoms. If you have current or past examples, then this is the moment to talk about them. Next, there might be some questions about your education and upbringing. They will also check if your family members have mental health problems. 

Observation of the behavior is important for the diagnosis. That is why it might be useful to bring a journal or your personal notes. They will ask about how these symptoms have an influence on your daily life.

2. Checklists

Some healthcare providers will ask you to fill in some checklists on your behavior. This will map out your symptoms. 

Neuropsychological testing

Sometimes it is useful to do neuropsychological testing. The goal is to take a look at your strengths and weaknesses. Your intelligence, executive functions, memory, and attention will be tested. Further, it can rule out other problems that might cause your symptoms.

Physical check

A medic will check your for other problems that might explain your symptoms better. It is always possible that you might have an adverse reaction to medication. Maybe other things are to blame for your suffering.

How to treat ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder in the brain; behavioral symptoms are an identifier. A combination of medication, therapy, and/or training is the treatment

The FDA has approved medications from the age of 6 years old to fight ADHD. The stimulants methylphenidate and amphetamine are approved. They can help to increase dopamine in the brain. There are three non-stimulants approved (atomoxetine, guanfacine and clonidine). They usually prescribe non-stimulants if you have adverse effects on the stimulants.

Therapy can help you and your family cope with the consequences of ADHD. The therapist can provide concrete tools. They help with motivation, attention, planning and impulse control.

You can learn how to keep a routine, use a planner, organize your day. You and your partner can also learn more stress management techniques. This can help as a way to react better to situations in which your symptoms test their patience.

What can I do to treat ADHD myself?

Like everyone else, a healthy diet and exercise routine is great for people with ADHD. Sleeping the recommended hours will also help in feeling your best. Support groups can help you and your family feel less alone.

Some people will refuse medication or will react bad to it. They can try to follow an adapted diet or use food supplements for omega-3/6 Fatty Acids. Research is still unsure about the effect size of these interventions. Supplements will not solve the problem. They might improve how certain medications like methylphenidate work for you.

Lastly, removing artificial coloring from your diet can have a small to medium effect as well. It might affect brainwave activity and your symptoms. Zinc, iron, magnesium, and sugar might also play a role in ADHD. Researchers are still discussing this.

What happens if I don’t treat ADHD? Is it worth getting my ADHD diagnosed?

Some people outgrow ADHD. Many diagnosed kids do still show symptoms at 20 years old. With age, your presentation type might switch towards an inattentive presentation.

Learning how to manage your symptoms early on might be in your best interest. This because people interpret inattentive or hyperactive behavior as troubling. Those symptoms are also a hinder to your learning curve.

Later in life, your boss will notice that you are making many minor mistakes. Your partner might feel that you are not listening to them. 

Consequences can be troubles at work and difficulty maintaining a healthy relationship. That might make you feel bad and can lead to a negative self-image. Addiction and accidents are also correlated to managing your impulse controls. 

These are possible consequences. When you have your ADHD symptoms under control, you can still have a successful and normal life.

Conclusion

If you have been suffering for a while and would describe yourself as someone impulsive/ hyperactive or attentive, then it might be time to take a deeper look at that. ADHD is not your fault. You can learn how to manage it. You can learn tools to function as you would want to. There is medication, and mental health care providers are ready to help you.

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