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WHAT IS ADD/ADHD?

Overview of ADD/ADHD
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), also known as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are terms describing a group of chronic neurobiological disorders affecting brain function, and occurring since childhood. A person with ADD/ADHD has problems formulating goals, making plans to reach those goals, and organizing and integrating information.

Other common symptoms include mood swings, short temper, talking excessively, impulsivity, inability to control physical activity, and difficulty sustaining attention and concentration.

It is estimated that in the United States, 4-7% of children and 3-5% of adults have ADD/ADHD. According to a number of researchers, up to half the people afflicted with this condition are still undiagnosed.

ADD/ADHD often continues throughout life, sometimes worsening in the adult years. Two-thirds of children exhibiting ADD/ADHD will have it as an adult.

ADD/ADHD as a Real vs. "Fad" Condition
ADD/ADHD has been called a "fad" medical diagnosis because many people exhibit some of the symptoms at various points in their life. For example, most children tend to be impulsive, inattentive, and physically active during development. In addition, our culture promotes ADD-like behavior, with its emphasis on media overstimulation, instant gratification, and rapidly-shifting images displayed on computers and TV.

Another factor: ADD/ADHD appears to live in the same "neurochemical neighborhood" as addictions, anxiety, aggression, depression, and learning disabilities. ADD/ADHD rarely occurs by itself.

This leads to confusion when, for example, a treatment provider claims their approach cures ADD/ADHD, or "proves" it doesn't exist. In reality, the patient did not have ADD/ADHD, or the treatment may have cured a symptom mimicking ADD/ADHD but caused by another (possibly co-occurring) disorder.

The end result is that a large number of symptoms can be--correctly or incorrectly-- attributed to ADD/ADHD, which means the potential for misdiagnosis is great. This underscores the need for a thorough evaluation when this condition is suspected.

To reiterate: ADD/ADHD is a chronic, persistent condition occurring since childhood. Adhering to this definition lessens the possibility of mistaking symptoms caused by other conditions (such as food allergies, stress, or stages of childhood development) for symptoms caused by ADD/ADHD.

ADD/ADHD as a Syndrome vs. a Disorder
In a syndrome (for example, congestive heart failure), the same symptoms can be caused by one, or a combination, of a number of factors. A disorder is usually attributed to one defect.

Recent advances in brain imaging technology have highlighted at least three brain areas involved with ADD/ADHD-the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia. In addition, emerging research has noted lowered levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in people with ADD/ADHD.

The interplay of these factors may explain why people with ADD/ADHD exhibit widely varying responses to medication, or different symptoms.