What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder. Children with ADHD have difficulties concentrating and are impulsive and hyperactive. They might find it hard to focus and execute simple tasks efficiently due to their short attention span. Sometimes, they cannot stay still for long periods. Although ADHD mostly becomes apparent in children, adults can have it too.
Several changes in brain development are responsible for this disorder, which creates boundaries in a person's school or work performance, and family or social life. ADHD affects not only the individual but also the whole function of the family. A study suggests that half of the children with ADHD are facing sleeping problems, such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnoea. Other researchers found that parents of children with ADHD observed signs of insufficient sleep, such as daytime sleepiness.
How common is ADHD?
An estimated 2% to 5% of school-aged children have ADHD in the UK. However, there are many more unreported cases of children with ADHD that do not have a diagnosis and do not receive treatment. ADHD also exists in adults, with 3% to 4% living with the disorder in the UK. Besides, nearly 60% of those with adult ADHD continue having symptoms during their adulthood. Undiagnosed ADHD in both adults and children might have severe complications in their social and personal life or development. Sleep problems remain a big challenge for all age groups, regardless of being on medication or not.
Types of ADHD
ADHD does not present in the same pattern to everyone. The American psychiatric association developed some distinctive types, to make the diagnosis, treatment, and general management of ADHD more consistent. The following are the three widely-accepted types of ADHD.
Individuals with the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD have intention as their most prominent feature. Therefore, they find it extremely hard to focus on or complete a task. Since they don't seem to be hyperactive or remarkably impulsive, they might remain not diagnosed. Girls tend to present with this type of ADHD more than boys.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type
Individuals with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD have hyperactivity and impulsivity as their most prominent features. Therefore, they tend to interrupt people, be noisy, disturb the class, or find it hard to stay still. Children or adults with this particular type may also experience inattention, although they most probably squirm in class.
Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type
Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive type of ADHD is the most prevalent type. Individuals with it are both equally inattentive and hyperactive, with above-average energy to do things. They also find it hard to complete a single task or stay still for a while.
What are the risk factors of ADHD?
Risk factors are exogenous parameters, behaviours, or genetics that may raise an individual's risk of developing a disease, disorder, or syndrome. They might be something you do, or your parents did during pregnancy or daily life. Sometimes, they are just inherited. Other times, they are things you have no power on, like your biological gender or ethnicity. Having some risk factors does not mean you will develop the disease. Similarly, not having any at all does not mean that you can't present with a respective disorder. The following are some of the most well-established risk factors of ADHD:
- You have a family history of a blood relative with ADHD or with other mental illnesses
- You have a mother who used drugs, abused alcohol, or smoked tobacco during pregnancy
- You were a premature baby
- You exposed yourself to certain environmental toxins, such as lead, at a young age or during pregnancy
- You had a brain injury
What causes ADHD?
Researchers do not know the exact cause of ADHD. However, they do believe it has a multifactorial etiology. Current research suggests that ADHD is more likely to happen in people with a family history of the disorder. Also, they believe that ADHD might be the result of central nervous system changes and processes that took place at certain times during development. Finally, doctors suggest that environmental exposure to certain toxins might play a principal role in ADHD presentation.
Symptoms and signs of ADHD
Symptoms and signs of ADHD are more prominent in children than in adults. However, some adults continue having positive symptomatology that profoundly affects their daily life. Although the intensity of symptoms declines as you age, you might still find it harder to focus or stay calm than an average person without ADHD.
A typical adult with the disorder might be impatient, impulsive, or seem irresponsible at the workplace. They might miss meetings or extend deadlines. Also, they might be the ones getting angry when waiting in a queue after shopping or being stuck in traffic. Most of the time, adults with ADHD find it hard to prioritise the things they have to do or their problems. Symptoms and signs in adults and children with ADHD might slightly differ, but are generally the following:
- Impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity
- Prioritising difficulties
- Troubles focusing on a single task or practising multitasking
- Mood swings and frequent frustration
- Problems planning or completing tasks
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor social skills
- Short-term memory inconvenience
- Frequent conversation interruptions
One of the principal and most prominent symptoms of ADHD is being inattentive or easily distracted. As a result, people with attention-deficit find it hard to keep concentrated on a single task or complete it. They often seem absent-minded or like they are daydreaming. Sometimes, they cannot be attentive in a conversation either. Because of being inattentive, they might seem forgetful.
Hyperactive children are fidgety and cannot stay still. They often get bored quickly and easily. They might disturb the class by interrupting others all the time. Although it is not their intention, children with ADHD might give the impression they are naughty or noisy. They might also do things when they shouldn't, or their teacher didn't allow them to.
An impulsive person acts without thinking too much of the consequences of what they do. As a result, children with ADHD may often interrupt or act in a way that might seem offensive to others. They might grab, push you, or do risky things before thinking. Similarly, they might over express themselves emotionally in situations that are not so worth it to act accordingly.
Most of the time, signs of ADHD are profound at a young age. The ones noticing these symptoms for the first time are usually the parents or teachers at school. However, adults that come in contact with children with ADHD notice soon that they also have unique strengths. People with ADHD might be curious, creative, and quick thinkers. They might have intuitive thinking and boundless positivity upon various subjects and circumstances. Most children are enthusiastic and sensitive and might impress their parents and teachers with their abilities. Therapy might be a tool to bring these abilities on the surface of a child with ADHD.
Sleep problems in people with ADHD
Sleep problems are quite often in children with ADHD. The truth is that these two medical entities interact with each other in a feedback loop. Two of the most prevalent ones are sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome. In sleep apnoea, individuals stop breathing for some time while sleeping. The cause might be large adenoids or tonsils, leading to frequent episodes of sleep apnea, which in turn affect a child's attention ability and mood during the day. Similarly, researchers think there is a correlation between ADHD, restless leg syndrome, and sleep disruption. What they found is a similar disturbance regarding a brain hormone. People with ADHD might also experience periodic limb movement.
Insomnia and ADHD
Statistics suggest that children with ADHD are more likely to experience daytime sleepiness. Also, an estimated 75% of adults with ADHD have insomnia. Except for sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome that are prevalent in children with ADHD and cause insomnia independently, insomnia is also an issue. Individuals with ADHD find it hard to fall asleep, wake up in the morning, or maintaining their sleep. Many children with ADHD may feel more energetic than average when it's time for bed. Sometimes, they might need an extra hour to fall asleep. However, even if they manage to sleep, they don't feel rested in the morning or during the day.
Complications of ADHD
ADHD might complicate your life if left untreated. Some of the potential complications are the following:
- Poor academic or job performance
- High chance for unemployment and financial issues
- Risky behaviours and trouble with the law
- Alcohol or drug use as a substitute
- Prone to accidents
- Problems in social life
- Mental health issues or suicide attempts
ADHD and co-existing conditions
Many people with ADHD might also present with mood disorders. Depression or bipolar disorder are two common examples. Although ADHD is not the primary cause of these disorders, it can be a trigger or a factor that worsens them. Also, adults with ADHD frequently have anxiety. These two disorders interact negatively with each other, making the quality of life worse of a person with ADHD worse. Finally, individuals with ADHD are at high risk for other psychiatric disorders, as well. Both children and adults may present with learning disabilities without meaning that they are less smart than the general population.
Can you prevent ADHD?
You cannot entirely prevent ADHD, but you can take some simple steps to lower the risk of your child developing it. For example, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or complications during pregnancy have a strong correlation with a high risk for ADHD in children. You can lower the chance of ADHD by trying to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Also, premature birth may increase the likelihood of having a child with ADHD. On top of that, researchers believe that providing a child with a healthy and consistent diet in the early stages of development might be protective against ADHD. Some scientists believe that a healthy diet can decrease a child's tendency to behave hyper-actively. A popular diet designed by Ben Feingold claims to lessen hyperactivity levels. However, the scientific community does not entirely agree. In general, healthcare providers encourage parents and caregivers to teach their children a healthy lifestyle. Avoidance of environmental chemicals exposure might also lower the risk of ADHD.
Diagnosis of ADHD in children
A child is only eligible to receive a diagnosis of ADHD before the age of twelve. There is no specific test to diagnose the disorder. Doctors usually observe the child's behaviour and consult the parents or teachers. In other words, they gather information about the child's performance at school, social situations, or sleeping habits. There are ADHD scales which health providers might use, along with interview and questionnaires. Also, the doctor will evaluate the symptoms and signs that the child presents with by using the ADHD criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, a medical exam might be necessary to rule out other medical conditions.
What else could it be?
Several medical or mental disorders may resemble ADHD. Autism spectrum disorders or learning disabilities might present with similar signs and symptoms as ADHD. Some children might have mood disorders that make them irritable or shorten their attention span. Also, some specific types of seizures might look like the child is absent-minded. Similarly, sleep disorders might make a child inattentive during the day due to sleep insufficiency. Finally, doctors might rule out other causes of ADHD symptomatology, such as brain injury and vision or hearing problems. A full medical evaluation is essential to avoid over diagnosis or under diagnosis of ADHD. Some disorders and their symptoms may overlap with signs of ADHD. It is crucial to understand whether symptoms are primary or secondary to an underlying condition. Several assessments and diagnostic scales are available and can accurately direct the diagnosis towards the primary disorder responsible for the symptomatology.
Treatment of ADHD
Standard treatments for ADHD include oral drugs and behaviour therapy. While pharmacological treatments are inevitable for some children, they aren't necessary for some. Children might also benefit from behaviour therapy and lifestyle changes. However, none of these treatments cure ADHD. They just improve and control the symptoms and signs, providing the child with a better quality of life. Sometimes parents and doctors need to be patient to figure out what is the best therapeutic approach for a child with ADHD.
Oral drugs approved for treating ADHD are stimulants and this medication affects the balance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, improving hyperactivity and inattention. You can choose between a short-acting or a long-acting stimulant. However, the appropriate dosage may vary. Often, doctors have to adjust it according to the needs of the child and the potential side effects.
Health risks of stimulants
Some experts suggest that stimulants use may pose some serious health risks such as heart or psychiatric problems. According to research, children who receive stimulants have a higher chance of developing hypertension or tachycardia. Similarly, agitation, psychotic, or manic symptoms may rarely appear in those who regularly receive stimulants to treat ADHD. If you notice any changes in your child's behaviour, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Children with ADHD might benefit from a variety of interventions, such as behaviour therapy or counselling, skills training, and other interventions that might improve and ease a child's social integration in the community. In the case of co-existing conditions, therapy might also work on the symptoms and signs of anxiety or depression. The following are some of the most widely-used interventions for ADHD:
- Behavior therapy
- Family therapy
- Socials skills training
- Parenting skills training
Home remedies for ADHD
A child with ADHD needs to feel appreciated. The parents need to find ways to express positive reinforcement and show their affection to their children. Finding ways to improve self-esteem and communication is imperative when living with a child with ADHD. Generally, a healthy lifestyle, full of activities, and social interaction is ideal for most children with the disorder. Parents should help their children learn how to organise their time and keep regular schedules for sleep or meals, without oppressing or domineering their children's personality or interests. Also, talking to the child's teacher is crucial to integrate the child in the school's community. Special programs might be helpful to attend.
Fight ADHD-related sleep problems with weighted blankets
As already mentioned, ADHD comes with sleeping problems. Except for establishing a bedtime routine and making it look like a pleasant ritual, parents can also provide their children with the safe environment of a weighted blanket. These unique covers give the individual deep pressure touch or stimulation which helps the body release hormones that relax you and make you feel better. They weigh more than an average blanket. The only difference is that there is a whole science in their interior. Weighted blankets have an evenly distributed load that helps you fall asleep easier and maintain your sleep without any effort or unwanted interruption. Weighted blankets were originally designed to help individuals with psycho-developmental disorders, such as autism or ADHD, sleep better.
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