What is ADHD and can it be treated?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder that can make it difficult for those affected to concentrate.

While most cases of the condition are diagnosed between the ages of six and 12 years old, the different levels of symptoms often mean some adults aren’t diagnosed until later in life.

According to UK charity ADHD Action, approximately 1.5m adults in the UK have the condition, but only 120,000 are formally diagnosed.

A number of celebrities have been diagnosed with the condition, including Justin Timberlake, Will Smith and Solange Knowles.

It has also become a popular topic on the social media platform TikTok, where the hashtag #ADHD has garnered more than 10.8 billion views.

However, medical professionals have warned that many videos about ADHD posted on the platform could be “misleading” and cause “widespread dissemination of health misinformation”.

Here's everything you need to know about ADHD, from the symptoms to look out for to how it can be treated.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a behavioural disorder that typically manifests as a persistent pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in most individuals, the NHS states.

Mental health charity Young Minds adds that another condition called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) has similar symptoms to ADHD, but it doesn’t cause people to feel as hyperactive.

While people with ADD mostly struggle with concentrating, those with ADHD will also have excess energy, meaning they can find it hard to control what you say and do, such as speaking without thinking first, or finding they you do things on impulse.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child's circumstances change, such as when they start school.

Symptoms in children and teenagers can include having a short attention span, appearing to be unable to listen, constantly fidgeting, excessive talking and little or no sense of danger.

The NHS adds that symptoms of ADHD in adults can be more difficult to define.

However, they tend to include the inability to focus or prioritise, restlessness, forgetfulness, mood swings and extreme impatience.

What causes ADHD?

While the exact cause of ADHD is unknown, the condition has been shown to run in families.

The NHS states that research has also identified a number of possible differences in the brains of people with ADHD when compared with those without the condition.

Other factors suggested as potentially having a role in ADHD include:

  • being born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy)

  • having a low birth weight

  • smoking or alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy

ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it's more common in people with learning difficulties.

What should you do if you suspect you, or your child, might have ADHD?

If you think you or your child may have ADHD, the NHS suggests making an appointment to see your GP.

If you're worried about your child, it may also help to speak to their teachers beforehand, to find out if they have any concerns about your child's behaviour.

Your GP cannot formally diagnose ADHD, but they can discuss your concerns with you and refer you, or your child, for a specialist assessment, if necessary.

How is it treated?

There are various types of treatment that can help you deal with ADHD.

If your GP thinks you, or your child, may have ADHD, they may suggest attending a group-based training or education programme, or refer you to a specialist for a formal assessment.

Other treatments include medication to help focus the mind, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and counselling.

For more information or support regarding ADHD, you can call the national Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service (ADDISS) on 020 8952 2800.

You can always find information on how to support your child with ADHD here.