Over 366 million adults worldwide are affected by symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Yet, some research suggests that less than 20% of adults with ADHD are diagnosed and treated for their disorder.
Without proper support and treatment, living with ADHD can feel like an uphill battle.
Undiagnosed ADHD often leads to day-to-day difficulties and frustrating challenges like poor focus and memory or difficulty controlling your impulses. But there are some significant life consequences as well, which can build up the longer a person remains undiagnosed. These troubles can range from stalled careers to relationship issues to not finishing crucial tasks.
That’s why diagnosis and treatment are life-changing for many adult ADHDers.
While no one test can determine if you have ADHD, working with a specialist and following the steps below can help you get a more accurate diagnosis.
If you think you might be struggling with symptoms of adult ADHD, don’t wait to get them checked out by a qualified medical professional.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get tested for ADHD.
1. Check Yourself for Signs of ADHD
Symptoms of ADHD can be trickier to spot in adults than in children because they tend to be more subtle.
The signs of adult ADHD can be split into two main categories: symptoms of inattention and symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity.
Symptoms of inattention to look out for include:
- Making careless mistakes and overlooking important details
- Having trouble focusing during work or leisure activities
- Leaving chores, school work, or projects incomplete
- Avoiding activities that require sustained focus
- Often getting distracted by unrelated thoughts
- Getting distracted during conversations
- Losing important items or documents
- Lacking time management skills
- Struggling to organize tasks
- Failing to follow instructions
- Missing deadlines
ADHD can also contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, such as:
- Moving about when expected to stay seated (such as in meetings)
- Intruding or taking over other people’s activities
- Interrupting other people in conversations
- Unable to sit still for an extended period
- Fidgeting or tapping hands and feet
- Trouble waiting your turn
- Often feeling restless
- Talking excessively
Start to reflect on the challenges you face in daily life. Then, assess whether they may be tied to symptoms characteristic of ADHD.
2. Learn More About the DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD
Apart from the symptoms you face, there are other factors to consider when assessing for ADHD.
These criteria are noted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is a professional handbook that helps healthcare providers make more accurate diagnoses of mental health conditions.
- You have at least five symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity.
- Your symptoms are present for six months or more.
- Your symptoms were present before the age of 12.
- You experience symptoms that affect two or more areas of your life (e.g., work, school, etc.).
- Your symptoms noticeably interfere with your functioning at school, work, or in social settings.
- Your condition isn’t better explained by another mental health condition.
Many people might experience symptoms resembling those of ADHD at some point in their life. However, an ADHD diagnosis can only be made if these symptoms fulfill the criteria above and affect your quality of life.
3. Rate Your Symptoms (But Don’t Self-Diagnose)
After understanding what adult ADHD typically looks like, you can better assess and rate your symptoms.
One way to do this is to take an online ADHD test for adults. Many self-screening tests are symptom checklists that help you learn more about the symptoms of ADHD and gauge whether you may have it.
That said, it’s essential to understand that these self-assessments are not entirely accurate and will not lead to a proper diagnosis of ADHD. An in-depth ADHD evaluation is still needed to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
4. Discuss Your Condition With Your Primary Care Physician
After filling out a self-evaluation, you might find that your symptoms indicate ADHD. If so, seeking professional medical advice for a proper diagnosis is best.
You may feel more comfortable reaching out to a healthcare professional you trust, like your family doctor or primary care physician.
Many general care doctors are qualified to make an ADHD diagnosis. Some may also take on the role of prescribing medications and monitoring their patients’ response to the treatment.
However, in some instances, the primary care physician might refer the individual to an expert specializing in adult ADHD. This might be a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist.
You’ll likely be referred if your doctor suspects your ADHD is accompanied by another mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.
5. Find a Qualified Medical Professional To Diagnose You
Different healthcare professionals can diagnose ADHD. Each specialty has its advantages and disadvantages as follows:
- Psychologist: A psychologist diagnoses people with conditions affecting their thinking, emotions, or behavior. They cannot prescribe ADHD medications. However, they can provide talk or cognitive behavioral therapy to help ADHDers address and replace unhealthy habits and thinking patterns with helpful ones.
- Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist diagnoses and treats ADHD. They can prescribe medications and devise an ADHD management plan, as well as monitor your response to treatment and keep track of any drug side effects. However, the cost of seeing a psychiatrist is usually higher than that of a psychologist.
- Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in conditions affecting the brain and nervous system. They may be able to determine if other neurological conditions are present alongside ADHD. However, people often seek ADHD treatment and therapy from a psychiatrist or psychologist instead of a neurologist.
- Family Doctor: Your family doctor may be able to diagnose and prescribe medications for your ADHD symptoms. However, they typically lack the extensive knowledge that a psychologist or psychiatrist has regarding ADHD, especially in adults.
Take some time to research and learn more about the different roles of various healthcare providers in diagnosing and treating ADHD.
This will help you pick a medical professional who can provide you with the medical advice and support you need.
Once you’ve done your research, there are a few ways to look for a qualified healthcare professional that can help with your diagnosis.
You may consider looking into the following options:
- Look online for directories of doctors and narrow them down based on their specialty and focus.
- Contact organizations (like ADDA) that support adults with ADHD.
- Ask friends and family if they know of any ADHD specialists.
- Ask your regular doctor for a referral to a specialist.
Make sure you know the qualifications of the medical professional who will be diagnosing and treating you.
Don’t be afraid to ask about their experience with adult ADHD and what methods they’ll use to evaluate you.
Finding a specialist you’re comfortable with will also make it easier to talk about your symptoms and struggles.
6. Complete a Comprehensive ADHD Evaluation
Once you’ve found a specialist who understands your needs, you may proceed with your ADHD evaluation.
There’s no single test that can determine whether you have ADHD.
Instead, your doctor will carry out a detailed assessment, which may include the following:
- Screening for co-existing conditions, which may include an interview about your medical history, work experience, social history, and family or marital life
- Behavioral rating scales for adult ADHD, which are questionnaires that collect important objective information about your symptoms
- A diagnostic interview, where your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and daily struggles
- An interview with someone who knew you well when you were younger, like a parent or teacher
- A physical examination to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms
Once the interviews and tests are complete, your doctor will likely go through the results of your ADHD evaluation with you. You can then work with them to develop a management plan.
Alternatively, they may refer you to another expert who can provide the best treatment options for your condition.
7. Learn About Your Treatment Options
If you’re diagnosed with ADHD, it’s essential to seek medical advice on how to get treated.
Your doctor may recommend any of the following management options for your ADHD:
- Medications: Stimulant medications are typically the first treatment choice as they’re effective for many adults and are relatively well-tolerated. Non-stimulant medications may be recommended to those who do not respond well to stimulant medications. They can also be used in conjunction with stimulant medications to increase the efficacy of treatment.
- Talk therapy: Also known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), this form of therapy can help improve symptoms of ADHD and executive function (organization, memory, and attention). Some research has also found that it can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in those with ADHD. Learn more about various ADHD therapies here.
- ADHD coaching: An ADHD coach can work with you to build structures and strategies to minimize the impact of ADHD on your daily living. They can help you work on various areas, such as goal-setting, prioritization, time management, and self-esteem.
ADHD support groups are also a great way to seek support and advice from people who have walked in your shoes.
Working with your doctor to find a treatment approach that works for you is crucial.
A proper management plan can help you improve your focus, organizational skills, time management, and performance at work or school.
By gaining control over your ADHD, it can become a valuable asset in life.
An Accurate Diagnosis Can Have a Transformative Impact
The goal of an ADHD diagnosis and treatment plan is to help you perform your best in your daily activities.
People with ADHD can set and achieve big goals in life. Getting treated simply makes the path toward success smoother and quicker.
The first step toward positive change is to reach out to a healthcare professional you trust.
To learn more about your symptoms, check out ADDA’s ADHD test for adults. This questionnaire can help you identify any signs and symptoms that point toward an ADHD diagnosis. By taking the time to assess your symptoms, you can make a more informed choice about your next steps.
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