attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

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attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder



A persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, or both, occurring more frequently and severely than is typical in those at a comparable level of development. ADHD is the most commonly reported neurobehavioral disorder of childhood. The illness may begin in early childhood but may not be diagnosed until after the symptoms have been present for many years. The prevalence is estimated to be 3% to 5% in children; 4% in adults.


Signs may be minimal or absent when the person is under strict control or is engaged in esp. interesting or challenging situations. They are more likely to occur in group situations. Although behaviors vary widely, affected people typically exhibit motor restlessness, impulsivity, and difficulty concentrating on a single task or chore. They tend to do more poorly in school than one might predict based on assessments of their intelligence alone. While characteristics of ADHD are found in many people at one time or another, a key feature of ADHD is the excessive or unusual pattern of behavior outside normal bounds of exuberance or excitement. The findings must be severe enough to be maladaptive and inconsistent with specified levels of development, and last at least six months.



ADHD may sometimes be confused with other disorders.

The disorder is difficult to diagnose in children under age 5. It is important to distinguish ADHD from age-appropriate behavior in active children and from disorders such as mental retardation, primary learning disabilities, alteration of mood, anxiety, petit mal seizures, or personality changes caused by illness, family stress, or drugs. The criteria determined by the American Psychiatric Association include specific limits concerning the duration and severity of symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. The findings must be severe enough to be maladaptive and inconsistent with specified levels of development.


In both children and adults, the domestic, school, social, and occupational environments are evaluated to determine contributing factors and their relative importance. Standard treatment includes behavioral and psychological therapy, environmental changes, and medication. Medications commonly used to treat ADHD include methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, atomoxetine, and pemoline. These agents, with the exception of atomoxetine, are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. Adverse reactions to CNS stimulants include decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, stomach ache, headache, jitteriness, and social withdrawal (the latter in children).

Behavior therapy for patients with ADHD includes positive reinforcement, time-out, response cost (loss of rewards or privileges for problem behaviors) and token economy (a combination of positive reinforcement and response cost). Combinations of drug therapy and behavioral therapies, or drug therapies alone, appear to have a more beneficial effect than behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, or parent skills training alone.

Medical Dictionary, © 2009 Farlex and Partners

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

A condition in which a person (usually a child) has an unusually high activity level and a short attention span. People with the disorder may act impulsively and may have learning and behavioral problems.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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