How to talk with a doctor about ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that can cause symptoms such as hyperactivity and impulsivity. A person with this condition may find it difficult to sit still or focus on a single task for a long period.
People with ADHD may also experience changes in their energy levels more often than those without this condition. This can have a significant influence on day-to-day life, including:
People may find it difficult to speak with a doctor about possibly having ADHD. However, several ways can help make this conversation easier.
How to start the conversation
If you think you may have ADHD, there are several ways to approach a healthcare professional and start the conversation. It can be helpful to keep track of any symptoms you are experiencing, such as feeling restless or finding it difficult to remain seated for a prolonged time.
You can then discuss how these symptoms affect your day-to-day life and what changes you have noticed in your behavior. This may include:
- making careless mistakes
- being unable to give close attention to details
- finding it difficult to organize activities and tasks
- avoiding tasks that require focusing for a long period
- getting distracted easily
- often forgetting what tasks you have to do
Many people feel vulnerable after discussing their symptoms, but remember, doctors want to help you improve your life quality and reduce the discomfort that ADHD may be causing you.
What to expect
After speaking with a doctor about possibly having ADHD, they may recommend undergoing a series of tests that can help them diagnose you. They may also perform a physical examination to rule out any underlying health conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
Doctors may use specific evaluation criteria, such as the ADHD screening scale, to assess your symptoms.
This test will ask you to rate any difficulty you have in the following six areas:
- waiting your turn to speak without interrupting others
- unwinding when you’re by yourself
- staying in your seat when you’re expected to remain seated
- completing tasks in good time
- managing your own day-to-day tasks without relying on others to do it for you
- concentrating when you are being spoken to directly
A doctor can then review your answers and give you a score, which can suggest with good precision if you have ADHD.
How to advocate for yourself
When it comes to getting tested for ADHD, there are some steps you can take to ensure your healthcare needs are met and you receive the care you require. Before attending an appointment, consider writing down the questions you want to ask a doctor and any concerns you have.
Keeping records of your ADHD symptoms can also help you bring evidence to your doctor about your condition. This may be particularly helpful for people assigned female at birth (PAFB) for whom ADHD symptoms are more likely to go unnoticed due to a lack of diverse research into the condition.
PAFB can have more difficulties receiving an ADHD diagnosis as their hormones can worsen ADHD symptoms, delaying and making a diagnosis more difficult. PAFB also generally present different ADHD symptoms to people assigned male at birth (PAMB).
While PAMB are more likely to experience antisocial personality disorders and substance misuse, PAFB are more likely to have conditions such as:
- somatic symptoms disorders, such as hypochondria
Remember, if you feel unheard or misunderstood by a doctor or disagree with their diagnosis, you can still get a second opinion from another healthcare professional.
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Treatment options for ADHD
- antidepressants, such as nortriptyline (Pamelor) and desipramine (Norpramin)
- amphetamine-based stimulants, such as amphetamine dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
- non-stimulants, such as atomoxetine (Strattera)
Therapy for ADHD generally includes behavioral treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help people learn the skills needed to manage symptoms in day-to-day life.
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Speaking to doctors about potentially having ADHD can be difficult. However, some steps you can take may make this conversation easier, such as keeping track of your symptoms and how they affect your quality of life.
Doctors can perform relevant tests to diagnose ADHD and rule out any other possible health conditions that may be causing your symptoms. They can also recommend the most appropriate treatment to improve your condition. ADHD treatment typically includes a combination of medications and therapy.
Remember, you can always get a second opinion from another healthcare professional if you feel unheard, misunderstood, or disagree with their diagnosis.
Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.
- About ADHD. (n.d.). https://chadd.org/about-adhd/overview/
- Adamo N, et al. (2020). Females with ADHD: An expert consensus statement taking a lifespan approach providing guidance for the identification and treatment of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in girls and women. https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02707-9
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- Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (2023). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/index.html
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and teens: What you need to know. (2021). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-in-children-and-teens-what-you-need-to-know
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- Rudin C, et al. (2017). The World Health Organization adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder self-report screening scale for DSM-5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28384801/
- Ulke C, et al. (2020). Gender differences in adult ADHD: Cognitive function assessed by the test of attentional performance. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0240810
- What is ADHD? (2022). https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/adhd/what-is-adhd