Family Health Guide

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Adult ADHD: Diagnosis

It’s much harder to diagnose ADHD in adults than in children. If someone has a documented medical history of childhood ADHD, it’s simpler. But twenty or more years ago, when today’s adults were kids, ADHD was not as well recognized as it is now, and many children went undiagnosed and untreated. When those adults seek diagnosis and treatment, clinicians not only have to eliminate >other possible causes for their symptoms, they must assess their current and childhood behaviors (remember, it’s only ADHD if it’s been present since childhood.)

Also, since stimulants, the drugs most often used to treat ADHD, can be abused by adults, doctors are under pressure to get the diagnosis right. For this reason, your family physician may feel more comfortable referring you to a specialist, such as a psychiatrist, with experience in diagnosing ADHD.

Not everyone with a messy desk, urge to spend, or failed marriage has ADHD. Adults have complex, time-consuming lives and everyone forgets the occasional doctor’s appointment or lets the laundry pile up.  In fact, studies show that half to two-thirds of the people who self-diagnose are not found to have clinical ADHD. Ironically, adults who actually do have ADHD are often unaware of their condition – they’re used to the chaos and figure they just can’t get a break. It can take the intervention of a spouse or friend, or the diagnosis of their child, to make them realize that their behavior is out of normal range and may be the result of a mental condition, not laziness, incompetence or bad luck.