Diagnostic, Evaluation, and Treatment Basics
People with adult ADHD suffer from a galaxy of symptoms which can be organized under the categories of disorganization, impulsivity, restlessness, difficulty focusing attention, emotional instability, and low stress tolerance.
While some medical experts are able to make a diagnosis after simply talking with patients and observing their behavior, the vast majority of doctors rely on a combination of diagnostic techniques and evaluation tools to arrive at a definitive diagnosis. These may include interviews with patients, parents, teachers, friends, and colleagues; evaluating past and current school, college, and work records and performance reviews; and administering various tests that measure intelligence, aptitude, and other criteria.
The Challenges of Getting a Diagnosis
Because there is no single test to confirm a diagnosis of adult ADHD, making an assessment is often challenging and time-consuming. Getting an accurate diagnosis can be further complicated by the overlap between the symptoms of adult ADHD and those of other common psychiatric conditions such as depression and substance abuse.
In addition, most of the information about the etiology, symptoms, and treatment of the disorder still comes from observations of, and studies involving, children. Still another challenge is the tendency of some adults to diagnose themselves using unscientific online tests.
Don't assume you have adult ADHD until you see a medical specialist and get a diagnosis. According to research, nearly half of adults who self-diagnose don't have the condition, possibly because the disorder gets so much hype and exposure in the lay media.
Even if you meet diagnostic criteria, your family physician may be uncomfortable evaluating and treating an adult with symptoms of ADHD, particularly if you weren't diagnosed with childhood ADHD. Because the most effective treatment for the condition is the long-term use of stimulant drugs that have a high potential for abuse, some family physicians who aren't experts in treating the condition may be understandably reluctant to prescribe these drugs, and may prefer you consult with an adult ADHD specialist.
Evaluation Nuts and Bolts
Because an adult with ADHD may have considerable difficulty accurately recalling childhood behavior, his doctor may also ask him to provide any available school records and gather information from adults who knew him as a child. Physicians may also ask for job performance reviews that may indicate chronic inattentive, tardiness, distraction, and problems working with others.
Your physician may also want to talk to your spouse, close friends, and colleagues. She will also examine current and past therapies, ask about prescription and over-the-counter drug use, and inquire if you've ever used illegal drugs.
You may be asked to take simple tests to see if you have trouble with short-term memory loss and concentration. Your medical evaluation may also include a neurological examination. Laboratory tests may include a serum lead level and thyroid function tests, which can be used to rule out existing conditions, like thyroid disease, that share many symptoms with adult ADHD.
Although there is no proven “cure” for adult ADHD, the good news is you don't have to live with the symptoms. Medication frequently helps.
Approaches that attempt to modify brain function using biofeedback appear to help many people. You may also benefit from more traditional types of psychotherapy.
In addition, there is a world of complementary treatments at your disposal, including counseling, coaching, marriage and family therapy, and support groups. Although medication is often the first line of treatment, you may also need help with the practical aspects of your life, such as organizing, prioritizing, meeting deadlines, and accomplishing goals.