Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Condition Basics

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition. A person who has ADHD has trouble paying attention and focusing on tasks, tends to act without thinking, and has trouble sitting still.

It may begin in early childhood and can continue into adulthood. ADHD can be treated with medicines, behavior therapy, and counseling. Treatment can improve your life.

In the past, ADHD was called attention deficit disorder (ADD).

What causes it?

The exact cause of ADHD is not clear, but it tends to run in families. Ongoing research is focused on finding the genes that may make a person more likely to get ADHD. Although many parents believe that foods with sugar and food additives make their children more hyperactive, these foods haven't been shown to cause ADHD. footnote 1

What are the symptoms?

ADHD is a condition that makes it hard to pay attention. People with ADHD also may be more active than normal and tend to act without thinking. ADHD may make it harder to focus, get organized, and finish tasks.

How is it diagnosed?

A doctor relies on a combination of exams, tests, and other information to diagnose ADHD. It is often diagnosed when a child is between 6 and 12 years old. Parents and teachers may first notice symptoms in children who are in this age group.

How is ADHD treated?

Treatment for ADHD will depend on the age of the person. It may include medicines and behavior therapy. The first step is an accurate diagnosis of ADHD and an understanding of the person's strengths and weaknesses. There is no cure for ADHD, but treatment may help control the symptoms.

Health Tools

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.
Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
Symptoms

Symptoms

ADHD can cause three types of symptoms:

Trouble paying attention (inattention).

People with ADHD often have a hard time focusing on any one task.

Trouble sitting still for even a short time (hyperactivity).

Children with ADHD may squirm, fidget, or run around at the wrong times. Teens and adults often feel restless and fidgety. They aren't able to enjoy reading or other quiet activities. Most people with ADHD are hyperactive only some of the time, even if hyperactivity is their main symptom.

Acting before thinking (impulsivity).

People with ADHD may talk too loud, laugh too loud, or become angrier than the situation calls for. Children may not be able to wait for their turn or to share. This makes it hard for them to play with other children. Teens and adults may make quick decisions that have a long-term impact on their lives. They may spend too much money or change jobs often.

Learn more

What Happens

What Happens

ADHD most often starts in childhood and can last into adulthood.

It can be hard to tell the difference between normal behavior and ADHD symptoms in young children. But after a child starts school, ADHD becomes more noticeable. It is most often diagnosed in children ages 6 to 12. During this time, it can disrupt many aspects of a child's life. Learning, adjusting to change, sleeping, and making friends are all areas where children with ADHD may need extra help.

Adults with ADHD may continue to have trouble focusing, organizing, and finishing tasks. But they are often able to adjust to the workplace better than they did in the classroom as children.

Learn more

When to Call a Doctor

When to Call a Doctor

Call a doctor if:

  • Your child is showing signs of ADHD that are causing problems at home or school. These signs include inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. Parents and teachers often notice this behavior during the child's first few years in school.
  • Your child shows signs of other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, that last more than a few weeks or seem to be getting worse.
  • Your child is having academic or behavioral problems at school.
Exams and Tests

Exams and Tests

A doctor uses a combination of exams, tests, and other information to check for ADHD. The doctor will look at guidelines created by the American Psychiatric Association. The diagnosis will be based on:

  • A talk with your child.
  • Your child's medical history. The doctor will ask about your child's social, emotional, educational, and behavioral history.
  • A physical exam.
  • Behavior rating scales or checklists for ADHD. These are used by parents and teachers to evaluate your child's symptoms.

Before meeting with your doctor, think about at what age your child's symptoms began. You and other caregivers can help by recording when the behavior occurs and how long it lasts. An important part of checking for ADHD is thinking about the kinds of problems caused by the behaviors. How much do they affect schooling and social behavior?

Treatment Overview

Treatment Overview

Treatment for ADHD will depend on the age of the person. It may include medicines and behavior therapy. The first step is an accurate diagnosis of ADHD and an understanding of the person's strengths and weaknesses. There is no cure for ADHD. But treatment may help control the symptoms.

Medicines that may be used for ADHD include:

Stimulant medicines.

One example is amphetamine (for example, Adderall). Another is methylphenidate (for example, Concerta or Ritalin).

Nonstimulant medicines.

Examples are atomoxetine (Strattera), clonidine (Kapvay), or guanfacine (Intuniv). These medicines may be used if stimulant medicines aren't effective or have side effects that bother the person. They may be used alone. Or they may be use in combination with stimulant medicines.

With behavior therapy:

  • Parents learn strategies, such as positive reinforcement, to improve a child's behaviors.
  • Children learn skills for problem solving, communication, and self-advocacy.

Behavior therapy is more helpful when used with medicine than when used by itself.

Learn more

Caring for a Child Who Has ADHD

Caring for a Child Who Has ADHD

There are many things you can do at home to help your child who has ADHD.

You can help your child build social skills. Behavior therapy and social skills training can help your child be less aggressive and impulsive, manage anger, and behave in a more socially acceptable way.

You also can help your child build self-esteem. You can do this by encouraging a sense of belonging, confidence in learning, and an awareness of your child's own contributions.

Model patience, persistence, and creative thinking. It can help your child learn skills for doing tasks at home and at school.

It's important to remember to take care of yourself too. Caring for your own physical and mental health is an important part of helping your child. And it will help you have the energy you need to take care of your child.

Caring for your teen

Regular, open communication with your teen and your teen's teachers and doctors is the first step in helping your teen with ADHD to thrive. And being aware of what's happening in your teen's life will allow you to work together to solve problems that might occur.

The teen years present many challenges. These include more schoolwork and the need to be more attentive and organized. Making good decisions becomes more important during these years when peer pressure, sexuality, and other issues surface.

Work with your teen to create reasonable goals. And use the right consequences when goals aren't met. That may include losing privileges or having more chores at home. Allow your teen to help decide rewards when the goals are met.

Learn more

Self-Care for Adults Who Have ADHD

Self-Care for Adults Who Have ADHD

  • Learn all you can about ADHD. This will help you and your family understand it better.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If you miss a dose of your medicine, do not take an extra dose.
  • If your doctor suggests counseling, find a counselor you like and trust. Talk openly and honestly. Be willing to make some changes.
  • Find a support group for adults with ADHD. Talking to others with the same problems can help you feel better. It can also give you ideas about how to best cope with the condition.
  • Get rid of distractions at your work space. Keep your desk clean. Try not to face a window or busy hallway.
  • Use files, planners, and other tools to keep you organized.
  • Limit use of alcohol, and do not use illegal drugs. People with ADHD tend to develop substance use disorder more easily than others. Tell your doctor if you need help to quit. Counseling, support groups, and sometimes medicines can help you stay free of alcohol or drugs.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Exercise has been shown to help people cope with ADHD. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.

Learn more

Medicines

Medicines

Medicines are used to help control the symptoms of ADHD.

Children should be closely watched after they start medicines. The doctor can assess if your child is getting the right dose.

Be sure that medicine for ADHD is taken on schedule. You'll also need to keep track of the effects of the medicine. Talk often with your child's doctor.

Medicines to treat ADHD include:

  • Stimulants. Examples are amphetamine (such as Adderall or Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (such as Concerta, Metadate CD, or Ritalin).
  • Nonstimulants. Examples are atomoxetine (Strattera), clonidine (Kapvay), and guanfacine (Intuniv).
  • Antidepressants. At times, certain antidepressants are also recommended.

Most often, stimulants are used to treat ADHD. These work well for people of all ages. In general, stimulants improve symptoms quickly.

If stimulants don't work or have side effects that cause problems, your child's doctor might recommend a nonstimulant. These medicines may be used alone or along with stimulant medicines.

Learn more

References

References

Citations

  1. National Institute of Mental Health (2008). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (NIH Publication No. 08-3572). Available online: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/adhd_booklet.pdf.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Growth and Development, Ages 11 to 14 Years Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens Growth and Development, Ages 6 to 10 Years Depression in Children and Teens Generalized Anxiety Disorder Growth and Development, Ages 15 to 18 Years Depression Bipolar Disorder

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details