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Dr. Frasat Chaudhry, St. Luke's Hospital

The difference between being too busy and living with ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often viewed as only a pediatric condition. But recent data suggests that one to seven percent of adults experience ADHD symptoms. Because it is more common in men, similar symptoms in women are often not recognized as symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD is a condition which is diagnosed based on specific symptoms including inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity or a combination of these symptoms. In children, inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity are emphasized. Adults, however, display similar issues more subtly. Poor concentration, distractibility, increased movement and impulsivity need to be present and need to disrupt two areas of daily life, such as school, family and peer groups, in order for an adult to be diagnosed with ADHD.

More and more, experts see lack of inhibition as a major symptom of ADHD. In adults, this is seen as poor self-regulation, inability to prevent responding immediately and difficulty with focused attention and goal-directed behavior. Adults with ADHD often appear disorganized and are unable to prioritize. Also, they can have emotional symptoms such as angry outbursts and quickly changing emotions.

In our busy society, most women are juggling many responsibilities, including families, careers and social and civic obligations. Often, this leads them to feel overwhelmed and forgetful. What makes a woman with ADHD different from one who is simply overextended and exhausted is her consistent tendency toward distractibility, poor concentration, poor planning and having trouble following through with tasks.

ADHD has no "gold standard" of testing. Its diagnosis is based on a clinical interview and an exclusion of other conditions. Evaluation includes a history of how the symptoms have developed and how they've impacted career, school and other relationships. It also takes into consideration whether psychiatric disorders and substance abuse are present. Treatment for ADHD includes stimulants, such as Ritalin, and counseling.

The cause of ADHD is not clear, but experts say it may run in families. Women feeling overwhelmed or out of control should see their physicians to discuss the possibility of having depression, anxiety and/or ADHD.

Dr. Frasat Chaudhry is a board-certified neurologist at the Brain and Spine Center at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-878-2888 or visit her Meet the Doctor page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 20, 2011.