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By Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe

Chief Executive Officer

ADHD: Not just a childhood complaint, adults suffer from it too

Everything you need to know about ADHD, which stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and how it can affect adults.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just an illness for children it is also seen in adults.

Symptoms will start in childhood and continue into adulthood. It is a mental health disorder characterised by difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. In adults, it can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, restlessness, low self-esteem, and other behavioural issues. It is difficult to diagnose and may be mistaken for other mental or personality disorders.

Just like in childhood ADHD, adult ADHD treatment includes medications, psychological counselling and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with the condition. The diagnosis of ADHD is confirmed only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one area of your life.

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These persistent and disruptive symptoms can be traced back to early childhood. There is no single test to confirm the diagnosis. So for the doctor that will assess you to confirm the diagnosis, they will: Get a full history and do a physical exam, to help rule out other possible causes.

Gather information, such as asking you questions about any current medical issues, personal and family medical history and the history of your symptoms. ADHD rating scales or psychological tests to help collect and evaluate your symptoms.

Causes and risk factors

Family history: If there are relatives who have ADHD or other mental health disorders, there is a likelihood of it happening in children.

Lead exposure: A mother exposed to lead in pregnancy, or early childhood exposure to lead may lead to ADHD. This is found in paints and disintegrating buildings.

Brain trauma: Trauma to the head during birth or in early childhood may also cause risk.

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Lifestyle during pregnancy: Drinking alcohol or smoking will put the baby at risk.

Premature birth: Increases the risk.


Picture: iStock

Symptoms begin in childhood and may worsen or reduce as one goes into adulthood.

The symptoms an adult with ADHD will present with may include difficulty paying attention, impulsiveness and restlessness. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms are usually not clear and may be missed unless they really affect everyday tasks.

We will see an adult that behaves impulsively and may find it difficult to focus and prioritise, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. The inability to control impulses can range from impatience waiting in line or driving in traffic to mood swings and outbursts of anger.

Adult ADHD symptoms: Anger and irritability. impulsive behaviour and doing things without considering consequences, inability to prioritise, poor planning, inability to focus on a single task, restlessness and inability to sit still, poor managing of time, getting easily frustrated, mood swings, inability to complete tasks, easily getting into fights and trouble coping with stress.

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Other conditions that resemble ADHD or treatments that may cause symptoms similar to those of ADHD.

Examples include: Other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorders, learning and language deficits or other psychiatric disorders; medical problems that can affect thinking or behaviour, such as a developmental disorder, seizure disorder, thyroid problems, sleep disorders, brain injury or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia); drugs and medications, such as alcohol or other substance misuse and certain medications.


ADHD can make life difficult for you. It is a condition that has been linked to; poor physical and mental health, inability to be in relationships for a long time, poor school or work performance, misuse of finances, criminal behaviour, alcohol or other substance abuse, frequent car accidents and injuries, inability to take care of self and suicide attempts.

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ADHD is a chronic condition and the patient will need to be on lifelong treatment and support.

Treatment includes medication, psychotherapy, education for the patient and their support structure and skills training. A combination of these is often the most effective treatment. These treatments can help manage many symptoms of ADHD, but they don’t cure it. It may take some time to determine what works best for the patient.

Picture: iStock


Commonly used medications for ADHD are Ritalin or Concerta in different formulations or doses. These need to be discussed with your doctor to make sure you understand how the medication works and what to expect. The right medication and the right dose vary among individuals, so it may take time to find out what’s right for you. Tell your doctor about any side effects that you experience while taking the treatment.


This generally includes psychological counselling, education about the disorder and learning skills to help you be successful and cope with the illness. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a structured type of counselling that teaches specific skills to manage your behaviour and change negative thinking patterns into positive ones. It can help address other mental health conditions, such as depression or substance misuse.

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