Are you the parent of a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD or are you living with it yourself? If so, then you know first hand the real-life symptoms that accompany the condition: difficulty concentrating and sitting still for long periods, impulsiveness, constant fidgeting or talking, and forgetfulness. Living with ADHD, as an adult, a child, or as a child’s parent, can mean days filled with more than your share of frustration and challenges.Many people seek a medical professional’s help and get a prescription without having any real knowledge of the condition, range of symptoms, what the medication does, or other treatment options.
Here’s what you need to know.
What ADHD Looks Like in the Brain
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a neurological disorder that causes a range of behavior problems such as difficulty following instructions, focusing on school or work, completing tasks, and interacting socially. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder where a person is unable to control their behavior because of processing issues in their brain and is accompanied by an extremely high level of motor activity.
Despite what well-meaning grandparents and others may believe, both conditions are not caused by poor parenting, family problems, bad teachers, too much TV, food allergies, or excess sugar. Instead, they are due to biological and genetic factors that influence neurotransmitter activity in regions of the brain.
For example, brain images of children with ADHD show that parts of their brains are smaller and less active with an excess of delta and theta waves and a deficit of beta waves. These changes are linked to specific brain chemicals, such as norepinephrine and dopamine, that regulate attention, mood, and behavior. Recent research suggests that people with the condition process information more slowly, and there is more “noise” during their processing. This may be related to immaturity of myelin fibers coating the nerves, which makes the neural transmission between certain brain circuits less efficient.
Joel Nigg, Ph.D., said about the disorder:
“ADHD is not a breakdown of the brain in one spot. It’s a breakdown of the communication networks between regions of the brain that control, emotion, attention, behavior, and arousal.”
Specifically, the ADHD brain typically shows altered activity in four primary functional regions:
- Frontal Cortex
This area controls high-level functions:
• executive function
- Limbic System
This region is located deep within your brain and regulates emotions, attention, and the stress response.
- Basal Ganglia
A malfunction here can cause inter-brain communication and information to “short-circuit” resulting in inattention or impulsivity.
- Reticular Activating System
This is the major relay system among the many pathways that enter and leave the brain. An impairment here can cause inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
Both ADD and ADHD are usually present in childhood but are often mistaken as personality traits and go undiagnosed. As you may know all too well, some children with these issues can have learning disabilities, behavioral or mood disorders, depression, anxiety, and problems with planning, memory, schoolwork, motor skills, social skills, sleep, and control of emotions.
What medications are used to treat ADHD?
According to the article, “FAQ About ADHD Medications”:
“Methylphenidate is the name of the most common medication used to treat ADHD. This is the generic drug contained in prescriptions for Ritalin, Focalin, Concerta and Daytrana. Methylphenidate is also available as a generic medication. Methylphenidate is a Central Nervous System stimulant, or a CNS stimulant.
Adderall is another popular medication for ADHD, which is available in generic form as well. Adderall is a mixture of four different amphetamine salts. Vyvanse, Dexedrine, Dynavel and Xelstrym are also amphetamines which are used to treat ADHD.
While stimulants are the medication of choice for treating ADHD, there are other options. Wellbutrin, an atypical antidepressant, is also used to treat ADHD, especially in adults. Tricyclic antidepressants, such as imipramine, are also used. In some cases, antidepressants may be used along with stimulant medications.
Depakote, an anticonvulsant medication originally developed to treat epilepsy, is sometimes prescribed, particularly if there is a need for a mood stabilizer.
Medications used to treat hypertension or high blood pressure are sometimes used to treat ADHD. Among these medications are Kapvay (clonidine) and Intuniv (guanfacine).”