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How Do They Test for ADHD in Adults? 7 Diagnostic Steps

How Do They Test for ADHD in Adults
Doctors may conduct several tests to detect attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. Learn about how ADHD in adults is diagnosed

There is no specific test that can detect attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. However, doctors can confirm a diagnosis of adult ADHD based on multiple tests and evaluations.

According to the guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), to be diagnosed ADHD, the adult must present with at least 5 symptoms from either or both groups of symptoms for at least 6 months.

7 steps for diagnosing ADHD in adults

  1. Medical history: Your doctor may ask questions about your current symptoms, problems at work or home, use of drugs and alcohol, driving record, and relationships with family and friends.
  2. Childhood experiences: In most cases, symptoms may have started in childhood but have not caused problems until now.
  3. Physical examination: A physical exam may help rule out other conditions such as thyroid problems or seizure disorder.
  4. Consultation: Your doctor may interview someone who knows you well, such as a spouse, sibling, or parent.
  5. Psychological tests: 
    1. ADHD rating scales: Questionnaire that can identify specific symptoms of ADHD that may not emerge in the clinical interview
    2. Intelligence tests: Measures IQ and detects learning disabilities common in people with ADHD
    3. Broad-spectrum scales: Screens for social, emotional, and psychiatric problems
    4. Specific ability tests: Assesses language development, vocabulary, memory recall, and motor skills
    5. Continuous performance tests (CPT): Measures the ability to stay on task using a series of visual prompts that appear on a screen
  6. Neuropsychological testing: This may help rule out overlapping disorders, such as learning disabilities, mood disorders, or autism spectrum disorder.
  7. Neuro-imaging procedures: Positron emission tomography scans, single-photon emission computerized tomography scans, and magnetic resonance imaging may be ordered to rule out structural brain abnormalities.

What are the different types of ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Although typically ADHD begins in childhood, it can be diagnosed in adulthood as well. Studies have shown that years or even decades after an initial childhood diagnosis, some adults continue to experience symptoms of the disorder.

There are two main types of ADHD:

  • Hyperactive or impulsive
  • Inattentive

What are symptoms of adult ADHD?

Symptoms of ADHD are categorized depending on the type:

  • Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity
    • Restlessness
    • Fidgeting or squirming
    • Interrupts others
    • Impatience
    • Excessive talking
  • Symptoms of inattention
    • Easily distracted
    • Carelessness
    • Forgetfulness
    • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
    • Avoids tasks that require sustained attention
    • Loses things easily
    • Frequently makes mistakes

Who should be tested for adult ADHD?

Significant problems with any of the following may indicate the need to be tested for adult ADHD:

  • Daily tasks: Inability to complete chores, failure to pay bills on time, or organize things
  • Work or school performance: Not performing up to capacity or ability
  • Career: Losing or quitting jobs frequently for no apparent reason
  • Relationships: Getting upset over minor or trivial relationship issues
  • Emotions: Experiencing stress because of not meeting goals or fulfilling responsibilities

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a self-screening questionnaire called the adult self-report scale (ASRS) screener that can help you detect signs of adult ADHD. The ASRS is made up of 6 questions that are ranked on a scale of 0-4. 

If you have at least 4 of the 6 symptoms, you should seek out a formal diagnosis. A formal diagnosis can help you receive appropriate and timely treatment for the condition.

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