ADHD in Adults (cont.)

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How is adult ADHD diagnosed?

Many doctors and other providers of health care may help diagnose and treat individuals with ADHD: licensed mental-health therapists, pediatricians, family physicians, or other primary-care professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, licensed counselors, and social workers. If one of these professionals suspects that you have ADHD, you will likely undergo an extensive medical interview and physical examination. As part of this examination, you may be asked a series of questions from a standardized questionnaire, checklist, or self-test to help assess your risk of ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD may be associated with reactions to stress, a number of other medical or mental health conditions, or can be a side effect of various medications. Examples of mental health disorders that may have symptoms similar to ADHD include anxiety, psychotic and mood problems, as well as learning disabilities. Therefore, routine laboratory tests are often performed during the initial evaluation to rule out other causes of your symptoms. Occasionally, an X-ray, scan, or other imaging study may be needed to establish the appropriate diagnosis.

Common symptoms and signs of ADHD can include:


  • Trouble paying close attention or making careless mistakes
  • Does not seem to be listening when directly spoken to
  • Avoids or fails to follow through on instructions or to finish tasks
  • Poor time management
  • Often loses things or the course of conversations
  • Thoughts are unfocused and constantly going
  • Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Frequently loses items necessary for tasks or activities
  • Tendency to get distracted easily
  • Often forgetful


  • Gets bored easily
  • Has trouble relaxing, perhaps even becoming sad when not active
  • Trouble engaging in activities quietly
  • May talk excessively


  • Interrupts others often
  • Has trouble taking turns with others
  • Makes comments that are unsolicited or not well thought out
  • Abruptly starts and ends relationships
  • A tendency to make decisions too quickly without fully considering options

Well recognized diagnostic criteria for ADHD are as follows:

  • Six or more symptoms of inattention that last for at least six months, is not adaptive and not consistent with the sufferer's developmental level
  • Some of the above symptoms that caused problems occurred before the age of seven years
  • Problems from the symptoms take place in at least two settings (such as school, home, work, community)
  • Clear clinically significant problems in social, academic, or occupational functioning
  • ADHD symptoms do not only occur as part of a pervasive developmental disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorder and are not better explained by another mental health disorder.

ADHD is understood as either one of three types: the primarily inattentive type, the primarily impulsive/hyperactive type, and the combined type. The primarily inattentive type is characterized by the person having great difficulty listening, focusing, organizing his or herself and completing tasks, but not having recent significant trouble managing their impulses or activity level. The primarily impulsive/hyperactive type of ADHD tends to result in the opposite set of symptoms compared to the inattentive type, in that the person has not had recent significant attention problems but has great trouble sitting still, waiting their turn to talk, and managing their impulses. The individual who has the combined type of ADHD struggles with aspects of inattention, as well as of impulsivity and/or hyperactivity.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/4/2013

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