Science Interviews


Fri, 19th Apr 2013

Revealing ADHD symptoms and diagnosis

Dr Sam Chamberlain, Clinical Lecturer and Psychiatrist at Cambridge University

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Paying attention to ADHD

I wanted to find out more about the clinical symptoms and diagnoses of both child and adult ADHD and so, I met Dr. Sam Chamberlain, Clinical Lecturer and Psychiatrist at Cambridge University.

Sam -   The core symptoms that make up ADHD Ė there's three kinds essentially.  There's impulsivity, there's hyperactivity, and there's inattention. 

And these aren't just things that we might all have problems with day to Dissection - learning from deathday.  So, just you know, being at work and not being able to concentrate all the time.  These are really extreme symptoms that impair what you're doing day to day. 

So, just to give a few examples from say, children, so kind of impulsive symptoms you might get, a child might run out into the road unpredictably all by themselves into danger or sort of push in and get into trouble with other children, so maybe being violent.  They may also be hyperactive, so they find they can't sit still in the classroom, fidgeting all the time, say to a cinema, they might be unable to sit still and might have to leave.  And then youíve got the inattentive symptoms, so a child with ADHD with these symptoms, they might just not be able to concentrate on a school work.  They won't achieve as they should in many cases and ADHD is a very treatable condition and thatís why itís important that we recognise it. 

The symptoms can look a little bit different in adults because many people who grow up with ADHD learn sort of coping strategies.  And the kind of things adults with ADHD might say is they might be impulsive, so they might tend to get in trouble with the police.  Sometimes they might use illicit drugs or overuse alcohol.  They can be hyperactive.  So again, similar things as in children, such as not being able to sit still, not being able to be more in place and just focus on one thing.  And then the problem is with attention.  Again, that can affect how they do at work, but it also can lead to problems in their relationships as well. 

So, for diagnosis of ADHD, you have to have some of these symptoms, but they have to Ė what we call functionally impair you in at least two domains, so that could be for example in your workplace, but also in the home environment.  Another example would be in your social life as well.

Hannah -   Sam, can you tell us a little bit about how child and adult ADHD is diagnosed and how common it actually is?

Sam -   So, there are a set of criteria that you use to diagnose ADHD and really, what's needed here is quite a careful and specialists assessment.  So, if you're worried that your child may have ADHD or if you're an adult with worries who might have ADHD, the first step would really be to see your general practitioner to see whether itís appropriate for you to be referred for a more detailed assessment. 

ADHD is fairly common in children.  It depends where you look.  It does appear to be diagnosed more so in America so that has raised some worries about whether itís being over diagnosed.  But in fact, the European countries and many countries has a pretty consistent rate of ADHD which would be maybe 4% to 6% of children will have the condition at some point. 

In fact, itís one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses that we find in young people.  We know that around 40% to 60% of children with ADHD will still have ADHD symptoms as adults.  In many cases, as I mentioned earlier, they may develop coping strategies so their symptoms might become less of a problem, but thereíll be a significant proportion of people where it should be treated.

Hannah -   So, about 1 in 20 children in the UK will be diagnosed with ADHD with the majority being prescribed medication to help treat it and half of these will then go on to continue with their symptoms into adulthood.  Iíll return to Terry who set up an adult ADHD group after his diagnosis to help support others.  I wanted to find out, are there any benefits associated with it.


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