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ADD vs. ADHD: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

ADD vs. ADHD: Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatments

December 12, 2023 Posted in: Health & Wellness  3 minute read time


In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), exploring the symptoms, diagnosis and various treatment approaches. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they differ in their meaning to different people. Let's navigate through the nuances of these conditions to gain a better understanding.

Defining ADD and ADHD

What we now call ADHD has gone by other terms in the past. In the third edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) from 1980-1987, it was termed Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) either with or without hyperactivity. In the next edition of the DSM, this term was updated to Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but the ADD moniker has stuck for many people. Since 1994, our terms have remained mostly the same – ADHD with a subtype depending on the type of symptoms present most for that person, predominantly inattentive subtype, predominantly hyperactive subtype and combined subtype.

So, while the condition has not changed, our description and definition of it have and will continue to update to reflect our understanding.

Individuals with ADHD struggle with sustaining attention, focusing on tasks, organizing activities, making careless mistakes due to a lack of attention to detail, restlessness, fidgeting, difficulty staying seated, excessive talking, impulsiveness in actions and an inability to wait their turn, among other symptoms.

Those with trouble functioning mostly due to problems with inattention would be diagnosed with ADHD, predominantly inattentive type, while those with trouble functioning mostly due to hyperactive and impulsive symptoms would be diagnosed with ADHD, predominantly hyperactive type. Those with trouble functioning due to both types of symptoms would be diagnosed with ADHD, combined type.

Common Symptoms

ADHD Symptoms

  • Inattention: Difficulty focusing, frequent careless mistakes, forgetfulness, easily distracted.

  • Hyperactivity: Restlessness, excessive talking, inability to stay seated.

  • Impulsivity: Acting without thinking, interrupting others, difficulty waiting for one's turn.

ADHD Symptoms in Adults vs. Kids

The symptoms of what we now define as ADHD first present in childhood, but the symptoms change with age for most people and can manifest differently in children vs. adults. 

Physical hyperactivity and impulsivity (can’t stay seated, can’t wait turn, runs and climbs excessively) is most common in children and commonly improves or changes with age. Adults may experience the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity as feeling restless inside, feeling extremely impatient, driving fast or reckless or talking excessively/monopolizing conversations. 

Symptoms of inattention more commonly persist into adulthood. While many people continue to have difficulty functioning due to their ADHD symptoms into adulthood, many people experience improvement in their teenage and early adult years, even to the point of no longer meeting diagnostic criteria or needing treatment. The percentage of kids with ADHD that persists into adulthood is difficult to study and current studies have a wide variation, anywhere from 5% to 60%.

ADHD Treatment and Management

Diagnosing ADHD involves a comprehensive assessment, including medical history, behavioral observations, and input from parents, teachers or caregivers. Psychiatric and psychological evaluations may be conducted to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

While the condition once defined as ADD has not changed, the name has been updated to ADHD to better described the constellation of symptoms.

ADD is an old term for what is now labeled ADHD. Someone using the term ADD may be referring to ADHD, predominantly inattentive type.

Yes, ADHD can persist into adulthood and may continue to affect daily life

Yes, ADHD has three subtypes: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive and combined presentation, each with distinct symptom patterns.

ADHD is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it significantly impairs major life activities.

ADHD and autism are distinct conditions. While they can co-occur, they are not the same disorder.

Yes, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, affecting both children and adults.

While there is no cure, effective management strategies, including therapy and medication, can significantly improve symptoms and quality of life for individuals with ADHD or ADD.

Seek expert guidance and make informed choices for you or your loved ones by talking to a CHI Saint Joseph Health primary care physician today

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