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What is Attention Deficit Disorder?

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/4/2011

What is attention deficit disorder? What causes it, what are the symptoms and does it affect only children? Find answers to these questions and more in this article.

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    What is Attention Deficit Disorder?

    Attention Deficit Disorder Attention deficit disorder (ADD), now referred to as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is a neurobiological disorder. It is a chronic condition that affects children, mostly boys, but can extend through adulthood. Onset can occur early in life but it is not often discovered until later when the child is in school, as this is where behavioral problems are more noticeable.

    Three types of ADHD exist:

    1) Inattentive ADHD (previously called ADD) - characterized by impaired attention and concentration.

    2) Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD - characterized by hyperactivity.

    3) Combined ADHD - characterized by impaired attention and concentration and hyperactivity.

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    What Are the Causes of ADHD?

    The precise cause is unknown but the following factors are believed to contribute to the development of ADHD:

    Heredity - ADHD tends to run in families. Children with attention deficit disorders normally have at least one close relative with the disorder, at least 1/3 of men with a history of ADHD bear children with this condition and some identical twins share the trait.

    Glucose and Brain Chemicals - It has been shown that people with ADHD use less glucose (energy source) in the areas of the brain that control attention and inhibit impulses than those without the disorder. An imbalance of chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) may also be a contributing factor.

    Pregnancy - Exposure to alcohol, tobacco and drugs, poor nutrition and infections during pregnancy may affect brain development in the fetus. Premature delivery and low birth weight may also be a cause of attention deficit disorders.

    Toxins - Exposure to environmental toxins, like lead in early childhood may affect the development of the brain.

    Head Injury - Head injuries, mostly those involving a concussion may be a factor.

    Other - Nutrient deficiencies, food additives, food allergies, sucrose and ear infections/antibiotic use are also believed by some to be contributing factors.

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    What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

    Inattention symptoms include:

    • difficulty paying attention
    • easily distracted
    • forgetfulness
    • unorganized
    • procrastination
    • difficulty following instructions
    • trouble finishing tasks
    • frequent shifts in conversation
    • makes careless mistakes
    • frequently loses items

    Hyperactive symptoms include:

    • frequently fidgets or squirms
    • difficulty sitting still
    • always "on the go" or acts as if "driven by a motor"
    • talks excessively

    Impulsive symptoms include:

    • impatience
    • shifts excessively from one activity to another
    • interrupts conversations
    • intrudes upon others

    To be diagnosed with ADHD, the person must exhibit several symptoms for at least six months, the onset of symptoms should be before the age of seven and the person's behavior must occur in more than one setting (such as home, school, work or social environments).

    In children, problems in relationships will be with both adults and children. In adults, symptoms must affect the person's ability to function in daily life. Before a diagnosis is made, a complete medical history, physical examination and psychiatric assessment are performed to rule out physical disorders and certain mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, which have some similar symptoms to ADHD.

    Now that you know "what is attention deficit disorder", you can learn more about this common condition that affects millions of children and adults here at Bright Hub.

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    References

    WebMD: ADHD Guide - http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd

    Mayo Clinic: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adhd/DS00275

    University of Maryland Medical Center: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)/Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) - http://www.umm.edu/mentalhealth/addcause.htm

    CHADD: Understanding AD/HD - http://www.chadd.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Understanding

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    Photo Credit

    Photo by allmothers (CC/Flickr)

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