ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder): 8 Things Doctors Want You to Know

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Susan Fishman, APC, CRC on April 15, 2020
  • Teenage boy in classroom looking out window in thought during test
    Expert Insights on Living Well With ADHD
    Living with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), which often begins in childhood or early adolescence, is a unique experience for everyone. It can leave people feeling chaotic, out of control, “different,” like a failure, alone, and misunderstood. For more insight into ADHD, we talked to a few experts in this area who gave us a full picture of the disorder. What we learned is that with successful treatment, it’s possible to live a full, engaging and successful life with ADHD.
  • Girl reading book on her bed
    1. “You can be successful—and an excellent student—and still have ADHD.”
    According to Michelle Frank, PsyD, clinical psychologist at Enrich Relationship Center of Colorado, ADHD is best explained as a dysregulation of the executive functioning and self-regulation system in the brain that leads to challenges with attentional control, working memory, emotion modulation, awareness of time, and much more. “Instead of a ‘deficit,’ ADHD is better conceptualized as an inconsistency or dysregulation,” notes Dr. Frank.

    “While inattention is one part of the problem, sometimes people with ADHD hyper-focus on their interests. And although some people with ADHD are hyperactive, not all are—women in particular.”
  • Smiling young friends walking down staircase outside
    2. “If you have ADHD, there is nothing wrong with you.”
    Michael Manos, head of the Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, tells us that people with ADHD often make negative self-statements, like "I’m stupid.” They feel that something is wrong with them because they do not function like they observe other people functioning. “It’s not always essential for a person to feel good about himself in order to live a fulfilling life,” Dr. Manos says.

    “Many of us don’t like ourselves or our actions from time to time. What’s essential is that a person stays engaged in living life (rather than isolating himself) and continually makes movement toward expressing his values.”
  • Playful toddler looking to the camera from under the duvet
    3. “ADHD and autism spectrum disorder are related but distinct conditions.”
    Both ADHD and autism spectrum disorder are chronic, highly heritable, neurodevelopmental conditions, according to Dr. Frank. “Recent research found that both conditions are related to mutations on the same gene (MAP1A, responsible for the structure of nerve cells),” she notes. “People with ASD can have symptoms of ADHD, and some people with ADHD have symptoms of ASD.”
  • Girl sitting with book and looking thoughtful out of window
    4. “ADHD does not just impact white, hyperactive, school-aged boys.”
    Girls and women with ADHD are typically less likely to present with disruptive, hyperactive behaviors and are more likely to have stronger internalizing and inattentive symptoms, such as seeming “spacey,” forgetful, disorganized, distracted, and emotionally sensitive.

    “As a result, they have been less likely to come to the attention of parents, teachers, and doctors, so rates of accurate diagnosis (and therefore treatment) have historically been lower,” says Frank. “There are also disparities in rates of diagnosis and treatment for people of color. This does not mean that they are less likely to have ADHD, but is thought to be indicative of cultural and systemic barriers to diagnosis and treatment.”
  • Close up of  boy holding game controller
    5. “It’s linked to adverse medical conditions.”
    Russell Barkley, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Virginia Treatment Center for Children and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, tells us that some of the most important things doctors need to convey about ADHD (and that are not widely known) have to do with the health risks, early mortality risks, and shortened life expectancy associated with ADHD.

    “ADHD is associated with various adverse medical conditions,” Barkley says. “These include upper respiratory infections; nonspecific lung and cardiovascular diseases; greater substance use, misuse, dependence and abuse; obesity; type 2 diabetes; coronary heart disease; eating pathology; sleeping problems; sedentary lifestyle; excessive internet and gaming use; and addiction.”
  • Businesswoman looking at laptop while sitting in office
    6. “The most common detriment is a tendency to leave tasks incomplete.”
    “For people with ADHD, saying that one will do something, and then not doing it, is like wearing a backpack and continually putting rocks in it, weighing the person down as she goes along,” says Dr. Manos. “This typically leads to feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed or anxious,” he notes. “Completing tasks and doing what one says she will do frees up a sense of well-being.” ADHD treatment can help with focusing and completing tasks.
  • Couple smiling together at silk screen workshop
    7. “ADHD can be hard on relationships, but it doesn’t have to be.”
    Forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning, getting into another fender bender due to inattentive driving, or tuning out during an important conversation—these are just a few examples of how one partner might feel disappointed, anxious, angry or disregarded, and the partner with ADHD might feel ashamed, embarrassed, judged and defensive, notes Dr. Frank. “Cue destructive cycle of criticism and defensiveness that gets both partners nowhere fast. Taking a team approach to make the situation ‘You and Me Against the Problem’ instead of ‘You Against Me’ can go a long way. Sharing underlying feelings and validating your partner’s experience can also be helpful.”
  • Smiling male colleagues looking at each other while sitting by desk in office
    8. “Diagnosis is not destiny.”
    Outcomes for people with ADHD are not unitary, says Dr. Manos, and a person with ADHD can function productively and lead a fulfilling life, all the while pursuing values important to them. “Reducing symptoms of ADHD is not enough,” Manos notes. “It’s important to maximize real-life improvement and build skills. For example, one may reduce distractibility with the use of medicine, and at the same time a person can increase the tendency to complete the things she says she will do to function optimally in work and in relationships.”
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: 8 Things Doctors Want You to Know
Contributors
  • Head of the Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health, Cleveland Clinic Children’s. He is the founding clinical and program director of the ADHD Center for Evaluation and Treatment of Cleveland Clinic.
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  • Clinical professor of psychiatry at Virginia Treatment Center for Children and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond, Va.
  • Clinical psychologist specializing in providing diagnostic and treatment services to individuals with ADHD and co-author of A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD: Embrace Neurodiversity, Live Boldly, and Break Through Barriers.

About The Author

Susan Fishman, APC, CRC is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in health education. She is also an Associate Professional Counselor and Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, adding mental health and wellness to her area of expertise.

You can follow Susan’s work at http://www.writingbyfishman.com/ or https://twitter.com/@fishmanwriting on Twitter.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.