Also Known As: ADD, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Attention deficit disorder, ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder.[1] It is characterized primarily by "the co-existence of attentional problems and hyperactivity, with each behavior occurring infrequently alone" and symptoms starting before seven years of age.[2]

ADHD is the most commonly studied and diagnosed psychiatric disorder in children, affecting about 3 to 5 percent of children globally[3][4] and diagnosed in about 2 to 16 percent of school-aged children.[5] It is a chronic disorder[6] with 30 to 50 percent of those individuals diagnosed in childhood continuing to have symptoms into adulthood.[7][8] Adolescents and adults with ADHD tend to develop coping mechanisms to compensate for some or all of their impairments.[9] It is estimated that 4.7 percent of American adults live with ADHD.[10] Standardized rating scales such as the World Health Organization's Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale can be used for ADHD screening and assessment of the disorder's symptoms' severity.[11]

ADHD is diagnosed two to four times more frequently in boys than in girls,[12][13] though studies suggest this discrepancy may be partially due to subjective bias of referring teachers.[14] ADHD management usually involves some combination of medications, behavior modifications, lifestyle changes, and counseling. Its symptoms can be difficult to differentiate from other disorders, increasing the likelihood that the diagnosis of ADHD will be missed.[15] In addition, most clinicians have not received formal training in the assessment and treatment of ADHD, in particular in adult patients.[15]

ADHD and its diagnosis and treatment have been considered controversial since the 1970s.[16] The controversies have involved clinicians, teachers, policymakers, parents and the media. Topics include ADHD's causes, and the use of stimulant medications in its treatment.[17][18][19] Most healthcare providers accept that ADHD is a genuine disorder with debate in the scientific community centering mainly around how it is diagnosed and treated.[20][21][22] The American Medical Association concluded in 1998 that the diagnostic criteria for ADHD are based on extensive research and, if applied appropriately, lead to the diagnosis with high reliability.[23]

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are the key behaviors of ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD are especially difficult to define because it is hard to draw the line at where normal levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity end and clinically significant levels requiring intervention begin.[15] To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must be observed in two different settings for six months or more and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.[28]

The symptom categories of ADHD in children yield three potential classifications of ADHD—predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, or combined type if criteria for both subtypes are met:[15]:p.4

Predominantly inattentive type symptoms may include:[29]

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
  • Have difficulty maintaining focus on one task
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new or trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggle to follow instructions.

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type symptoms may include:[29]

  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Talk nonstop
  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
  • Be constantly in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.

and also these manifestations primarily of impulsivity:[29]

  • Be very impatient
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games

Most people exhibit some of these behaviors, but not to the degree where such behaviors significantly interfere with a person's work, relationships, or studies—and in the absence of significant interference or impairment, a diagnosis of ADHD is normally not appropriate. The core impairments are consistent even in different cultural contexts.[30]

Symptoms may persist into adulthood for up to half of children diagnosed with ADHD. This rate is difficult to estimate, as there are no official diagnostic criteria for ADHD in adults.[15] ADHD in adults remains a clinical diagnosis. The signs and symptoms may differ from those during childhood and adolescence due to the adaptive processes and avoidance mechanisms learned during the process of socialisation.[31]

A 2009 study found that children with ADHD move around a lot because it helps them stay alert enough to complete challenging tasks.[32][33]

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