ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is a common neurobehavioural condition that affects mostly children and teenagers.

According to the Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Support Group of Southern Africa (ADHASA), recent data suggests that eight to 10 percent of the South African population has the disorder. ADHD in adults is less common, with statistics indicating that 30 to 50 percent of those diagnosed in childhood will continue to exhibit symptoms into adulthood.

As the name suggests, ADHD is characterised by hyperactivity, difficulty paying attention and impulsive behaviour, with symptoms usually setting in between the ages of six and 12 years old. While ADHD’s causes remain unknown, experts believe it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors that result in chemical imbalances or neurological changes in the brain.

What are its symptoms?

ADHD symptoms will vary in severity and presentation from case to case, with three main ADHD types identified:

1. Predominantly inattentive type:

  1. Difficulty paying attention
  2. Easily distracted
  3. Trouble completing assignments or following instructions
  4. Tendency to daydream.

2. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type:

  • Constant fidgeting
  • Difficulty sitting still, always restless
  • Talks a lot
  • Impulsive behaviour, including often interrupting when others are speaking and inappropriate outbursts
  • Difficulty exercising patience
  • Sense of inner restlessness in teens and adults.

3. Combination type:

  • Symptoms of both types are observed equally.

ADHD in adults may also present with disorganisation, relationship problems, inability to relax, constant lateness and difficulty prioritising tasks.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no single ADHD test, so an ADHD diagnosis is usually made on the basis of the symptoms meeting several criteria. A multidisciplinary assessment with input from a psychologist as well as a paediatrician, occupational therapist or GP may be necessary, in order to rule out other conditions that could be causing the symptoms. For example, hearing problems in children may lead to it seeming as if they’re inattentive.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), symptoms need to have been present for at least six months and must have caused significant functional impairment for a true ADHD diagnosis.

What are your treatment options?

While an ADHD cure does not exist, the disorder can be managed. Studies have shown that in a comparison between just using carefully-managed medication or just using behavioural therapy, medication was far more effective at managing ADHD symptoms.

According to ADHASA, the most effective ADHD treatment is a combination of the correct medication (this will vary from person to person, meaning that a doctor may have to prescribe several medications before you find the right one), counselling or behavioural therapy, dietary interventions and supplementations (the essential fatty acids in omega-3 and omega-6 play an important role in neural functioning and concentration), and regular exercise.

Can it be prevented?

As so little is understood about the causes of ADHD, there’s no guaranteed way to prevent it. Some studies suggest that complications during pregnancy can harm foetal development and increase the unborn child’s risk of developing ADHD, with one study indicating that children of women who smoked during pregnancy are twice as likely to develop the disorder.

Aside from not smoking, it is important for pregnant women to avoid alcohol, drugs and any environmental toxins. There is no evidence to suggest diet can prevent ADHD, but a healthy and balanced diet is an important part of managing the condition.

For more info
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Support Group of Southern Africa 
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in January 2015