Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Adults

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

ADHD in Adults: Diagnosis, Treatment

Quick GuideADHD in Adults: Signs, Cause, and Management

ADHD in Adults: Signs, Cause, and Management

What tests do health-care professionals use to diagnose adult ADHD?

In order to be assigned the diagnosis of ADHD, a child should exhibit six symptoms of inattention or six symptoms of combined hyperactivity and impulsivity, and an older teen or adult need only demonstrate five of each group of symptoms. Symptoms should begin prior to 12 years of age, occur in more than one setting (like home and work), be significant enough to cause difficulties for the person, and not be able to be better explained by another illness. There are three types of ADHD: predominately inattentive presentation, predominately hyperactive/impulsive presentation, and the combined (inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive) presentation.

Many health-care professionals may help determine the diagnosis of ADHD. A professional will likely perform or refer for a thorough medical interview and physical exam as part of the evaluation. Since ADHD can be associated with other mental-health problems like depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other anxiety disorders, as well as with autism-spectrum disorders, the evaluator will likely screen for signs of those and other forms of mental illness. The signs and symptoms of adult ADHD may also be caused by many medical conditions or can be a side effect of a number of medications. Therefore, blood tests are frequently done as part of the initial assessment. Occasionally, an imaging study like an X-ray or CAT scan may be necessary. As part of the evaluation, the individual may be asked questions from a standardized questionnaire or self-test to assist in determining the diagnosis. Some ADHD symptom checklists for children have been adapted to screen for the condition in adults. Examples of such diagnostic tools include the Conners' Adult ADHD Rating Scale (CAARS) and the Adult Self Report Scale.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/8/2016

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