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What are the signs of ADHD in adults?

How do you know if you are experiencing normal levels of distraction or adult ADHD? While attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is most commonly diagnosed in childhood, it’s possible for it to go undiagnosed until adulthood.

“I’ve seen many adult patients in the last five years who are concerned about ADHD,” says Lacey Hutchinson, D.O., a Piedmont family medicine physician.

What are the most common signs of ADHD in adults?

The most common signs of ADHD in adults include:

  • Trouble focusing at work and home

  • Falling behind on projects and responsibilities

  • Taking longer than colleagues to complete the same task

  • Trying to do too many things at once

  • Feeling “foggy” throughout the day

  • Trouble remembering information

  • Disorganization

  • Mood swings

  • Relationship troubles

  • Procrastination

  • Poor self-esteem

  • Poor listening skills

“Often adult patients with ADHD may also present with secondary issues of anxiety and/or depression because they are worried about their performance at work and home,” says Dr. Hutchinson.

ADHD diagnosis in adults

“I tend to suspect ADHD more if the person is having trouble focusing both at home and work,” she says. “If they are only having difficulty concentrating at work, their symptoms may be related to work stress, not necessarily ADHD.”

If Dr. Hutchison suspects ADHD and the patient doesn’t seem to have symptoms linked with depression, anxiety or a mood disorder, she will:

  • Have a conversation about their symptoms. “If I do enough digging, I can often find patterns of ADHD in their childhood,” she says. “I think there used to be a bigger stigma around ADHD, but people are more vocal about it now.”

  • Do a physical exam. This includes basic lab work and thyroid function tests, as well as sleep and social history, including diet and exercise habits.

  • Refer the patient to a behavioral specialist for evaluation. “If I have an adult patient who has signs of ADHD, I often refer them for an ADHD evaluation with a behavioral specialist,” says Dr. Hutchinson. “They may have an underlying mood disorder, anxiety or depression, which may mimic symptoms of mental fogginess, easy distraction, or trouble completing tasks”

ADHD treatment in adults

Dr. Hutchinson uses one or more of the following methods to treat ADHD in adults:

  • Lifestyle modifications. “I like to address a poor diet, excessive caffeine intake, lack of sleep and inactivity as part of the treatment process,” she says.

  • Behavioral therapy and cognitive treatments. This includes counseling techniques to help manage symptoms, family counseling or marital counseling.

  • Medication. “It is not highly recommended for adults to be on ADHD medication for an extended period later in life, so I often work with the patient to develop an end goal,” she says. “We will trial medication while incorporating lifestyle modifications and behavioral therapies. Many adult patients do well taking medication on an as-needed basis, such as during intense periods of work or big projects while using behavioral therapy on other days."

When to see a doctor about ADHD symptoms

If you suspect ADHD and the symptoms are affecting your work life and relationships, make an appointment to see your doctor.

“It’s important to come in sooner rather than later to differentiate from ADHD and rule out other causes of your symptoms, such as depression, anxiety or a mood disorder,” she adds. 

Dr. Hutchinson practices at Piedmont Physicians East Paces Buckhead Family Practice, located at 371 East Paces Ferry Road Northeast, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30305. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Hutchinson or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.

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