ADHD Treatment: What You Need to Know

Is your child in constant motion? Do you talk incessantly? Or do you have trouble concentrating and prefer to daydream?

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Then your child may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This disorder often starts between the ages of 3 and 6, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). And it’s not just a childhood illness. ADHD can continue through adolescence and into adulthood.

There are three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive (problem approach, following instructions and finishing tasks)
  • Hyperactive-impulsive (constantly moving, talking excessively, and interrupting others)
  • Combined (symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity)

Diagnosis of ADHD

Studies show that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD continues to increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 11% of children ages 4 to 17 (6.4 million children) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011, compared to 7.8% in 2003, according to the CDC. Child psychiatrist Tiffany R. Farchione, who reviews drugs in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat ADHD, says the increase could be due to increased public awareness of the disorder And psychiatric illnesses in general.

Males (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have been diagnosed with ADHD. Boys are also more likely to have the hyperactive-impulsive type, which is easier to spot than the quieter child who is inattentive, says Farchione.

If you suspect your child may have ADHD, consult your family doctor or pediatrician. Vision, hearing, and anything else that may contribute to your child’s inattention should also be checked. The doctor can diagnose ADHD or refer your child to a mental health specialist for evaluation.

Treatments for ADHD

The FDA has approved two types of stimulant and non-stimulant medications to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve performance in children as young as 6 years.

It may seem counterintuitive, says Farchione, but despite its name, stimulants, which contain various forms of methylphenidate and amphetamine, actually have a calming effect on hyperactive children with ADHD. It is thought to increase brain levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation, attention and movement.

The FDA has also approved three non-stimulants to treat the symptoms of ADHD: Strattera (atomoxetine), Intuniv (guanfacine) and Kapvay (clonidine). These provide a useful alternative for children who do not tolerate stimulants well. Talk to your health care provider about what medications may be best for your child.

In addition to medication, some children with ADHD receive behavioral therapy to help manage symptoms and provide additional coping skills. On the other hand, interested parents can reach their child’s schools and community support groups for information and guidance on how to deal with ADHD’s behavior. “It’s helpful to relate to the different individuals who are involved in a child’s life when he or she handles the disorder,” says Farchione.

Proof of the effects of medication on younger children

FDA-approved drugs currently on the market have been tested for safety and effectiveness in clinical trials of children older than 6 years. But once a drug has been approved and is on the market, the FDA is asking for clinical trials with participants of children as young as 4 and 5 years old.

“We know that ADHD medications are being prescribed to younger children and we believe it is essential that data from clinical studies reflect the safety and effectiveness of this age group,” adds Farchione.

If left untreated, ADHD can have serious consequences. A child may fall behind in school, encounter difficulties in friendships and have conflicts with parents, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Studies show that children with untreated ADHD have more visits to the emergency room and are more likely to have self-inflicted injuries than those treated for the disorder. Adolescents not treated with ADHD are more likely to take risks, such as drinking and driving. And they have twice as many motor vehicle accidents as those treated.

Adults and ADHD

Studies suggest that about 4% of adults may have ADHD. For adults, the symptoms are the same as those of children but may appear somewhat differently. Adults with ADHD may have poor time management skills and problems with multitasking, become restless with downtime, and avoid activities that require sustained concentration.

A diagnosis of ADHD in an adult occurs only when it is known that some of the symptoms were present early in childhood, usually under the age of seven.

“For some adults, a diagnosis of ADHD can bring a sense of relief,” says Farchione. Receiving a diagnosis allows adults to understand the reasons for their problems, and treatment can help them cope with the challenges more effectively.