Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

Published on

February 16, 2024

Updated on

February 16, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Ben Ahrens, HHP

What is ADHD?

If you find difficulty focusing on everyday tasks like chores or work, organization, or are a pro at procrastination, you might be suffering from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a chronic condition that impacts millions of children and can continue into adulthood. While symptoms start in early childhood, in some cases, ADHD is not recognized or diagnosed until the person is an adult.

ADHD includes a combination of persistent problems with sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. The symptoms vary depending on the type of ADHD a person is experiencing, age, as well as gender. Let’s take a look at how symptoms commonly manifest in children, men, and women.

ADHD Symptoms in Children

ADHD symptoms start before age 12, but in some children symptoms are noticeable as early as three years of age. The symptoms can range from mild, moderate, to severe. ADHD occurs more often in males, and boys tend to be more hyperactive, and girls may be quietly inattentive.

Children with ADHD may also struggle with difficulty maintaining peer relationships and poor performance in school. Some people may never completely outgrow their ADHD symptoms, but for others, symptoms can lessen with age. In children, the most common symptoms include[1]:

  • A lack of attention
  • Extreme hyperactivity
  • A tendency to make impulsive decisions
  • Interrupting the teacher or friends
  • Difficulty listening
  • Inability to multitask
  • Inability to focus on one task
  • Disorganized and forgetful

ADHD Symptoms in Adults

In adults, symptoms may not be as apparent as in children. Adult ADHD can lead to difficulty with relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and other problems. In adults, the most common symptoms include[2]:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing
  • Poor time management skills
  • Problems focusing on a task
  • Trouble multitasking
  • Excessive activity or restlessness
  • Poor planning
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Problems following through and completing tasks
  • Hot temper
  • Trouble coping with stress

Additionally, symptoms in adults can differ depending on the gender of the individual. For example, women are often diagnosed much later in life because they present symptoms in more subtle ways. In women, symptoms can be similar to those in men; however, inattentiveness tends to be the most prominent symptom.

Causes and risk factors of ADHD

Causes of ADHD

While the exact cause of ADHD is not known, it is likely a combination of genetics, the environment, and problems with the central nervous system at key developmental stages.

Neuroimaging studies have shown structural alterations in several brain regions in children and adults with ADHD. The ADHD brain scans revealed that five separate brain regions in (and relating to) the limbic system, tend to differ in people with ADHD. These structures include the amygdala, hippocampus, caudate nucleus, putamen, and nucleus accumbens. While these differences were more noticeable in children, they could affect people of all ages.

The Role of the Limbic System

The limbic system is the part of the brain that drives your primal fight or flight response. Under normal circumstances, the protective mechanisms of the limbic system would only become activated in times of appropriate danger or threat. However, if the limbic system becomes impaired due to various stressors, it can cause “cross-wiring” of neuronal circuits in the brain. Changes in the limbic system, such as those seen in ADHD, can occur when a high chronic stress load combines with an injury or another traumatic event[3].

The Amygdala

An almond-shaped structure in the limbic system. It serves as the center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation.


Also part of the limbic system, the hippocampus is involved in long-term memory and also plays a significant role in learning and emotion.

Caudate Nucleus

The caudate nucleus also has a significant role in how the brain learns. It is responsible for processing past experiences to influence further action.

The Nucleus Accumbens and The Putamen

The nucleus accumbens and the putamen are all part of the corpus striatum and both tend to be smaller in people with ADHD. While the putamen is involved in the movement of the limbs, the nucleus accumbens is responsible for processing the neurotransmitter dopamine and can be thought of as the “reward circuit” of the brain.

Risk Factors of ADHD

Risk factors for ADHD may include:

  • Family history of ADHD or other mental health disorders
  • Exposure to environmental toxins such as lead
  • Maternal drug use or alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Premature birth

Diagnosing ADHD

There is no specific test for ADHD, but making a diagnosis will likely include a combination of the following:

  • Physical examination by your primary care doctor to help rule out other possible causes of symptoms or underlying medical concerns.
  • ADHD questionnaires for family members, your child’s teachers, or other people who know you or your child well.
  • ADHD rating scales to help determine the severity of the symptoms.

Treatment of ADHD

While treatment won’t cure ADHD, it can significantly help with symptoms. Treatment typically includes medications, behavior therapy, counseling, and education services. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big impact. The best results occur when a multidisciplinary team approach is used, with teachers, parents, therapists, and physicians working together.

Treatment for adult ADHD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD and typically includes medications, psychological counseling, and treatment for any co-occurring mental health conditions. Specific treatment options include:


  • Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD. Stimulants appear to balance your brain’s level of neurotransmitters. These medications help improve symptoms, sometimes in a short period of time.
  • Antidepressants such as bupropion work slower than stimulants and may take several weeks before they take full effect. These can be a good option for people who can not take stimulants because of health problems or if stimulants cause intolerable side effects.
  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Guanfacine (Intuniv)
  • Clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT teaches specific skills to manage behavior and change negative thinking patterns associated with ADHD. It can also help to teach coping strategies for challenges with school, work, and relationships. It can also help address other mental health conditions, such as depression or substance misuse.

Marital Counseling and Family Therapy

This therapy can help loved ones cope with the stress of living with someone with ADHD, and strategies to help. It can improve communication and problem-solving skills.

What is re-origin?

re-origin is a science-based, self-directed neuroplasticity training program and supportive community designed to help people suffering from chronic conditions. The goal of re-origin is to educate and guide you through the concepts of neuroplasticity and how to retrain your brain to respond differently to adverse stimuli.

Components of the re-origin program

Understanding neuroplasticity. The training program includes interactive modules, specially designed worksheets, and self-assessment quizzes where you’ll learn:

  • How chronic conditions form
  • How to calm your racing mind and break anxiety loops
  • How to be more resilient to stress
  • How to transform your “threat response” to a “challenge response” and learn to stay calm and relaxed under pressure

Connecting with a Community. You’ll join a curated uplifting community with weekly group coaching calls, live Q&As and online events.

Group coaching or “Momentum Sessions” to inspire motivation & accountability through weekly “momentum group” coaching calls.

It is important to understand the content in re-origin is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for a medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice. Your doctor should always be involved in the management of any health conditions. Consult with your doctor prior to starting re-origin to discuss a plan for your overall health.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, a mental health professional can help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, a mental health professional can help. The American Society for Suicide Prevention provides direct services dedicated to crisis intervention. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. Call or text 988 or text TALK to 741741.

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A Final Word

No matter how long you’ve been living with ADHD, you can overcome your symptoms by addressing them at their core. With patience and repetition, the changes in your brain will start to reflect outwardly in reducing your ADHD symptoms.


What is ADHD?
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ADHD includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.

How do I know if I have ADHD?
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If you suspect you have ADD or ADHD, you should visit your primary care physician for a thorough evaluation. They will perform a physical exam, ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms, and perform psychological testing.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?
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  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganization
  • Poor time management abilities
  • Difficulty focusing on one task
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Excessive restlessness
  • Poor planning
  • Low tolerance for frustration

What causes ADHD?
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While the exact cause of ADHD is not known, it is likely a combination of genetics, the environment, and problems with the central nervous system at key developmental stages.

Does ADHD affect social skills?
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Because ADHD can cause people to have difficulty focusing and remaining attentive, this can affect how they act in social settings. For example, people with ADHD may have trouble maintaining a conversation and connecting with others.


Katie Rapkoch, CHPC