How To Talk To Doctor About ADHD in 8 Simple Steps
Table of Contents
Between work, kids, and social activities, everyone feels a little overwhelmed from time to time. But if you can’t concentrate long enough to get through a movie or flip through a whole magazine, you're constantly late, or you're impatient with people to the point that it’s interfering with your life, you may be one of the 8 to 9 million Americans with adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD. Let's jump into how to bring up ADHD with your doctor.
Talk To Doctor About ADHD : Signs and Symptoms
ADHD has the stigma of being over-diagnosed, so many adults who suspect they may have the disorder suffer in silence.
According to the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), 18 symptoms could indicate that you have ADHD. There are two groups of symptoms: inattention, with nine symptoms; and a combined hyperactive and impulsive group, with six hyperactive and three impulsive behaviors.
Step 1 – How To Talk To Doctor About ADHD: Figure out if you have any symptoms
The 18 symptoms are as follows:
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, gets sidetracked)
- Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework)
- Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g., school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones)
- Is often easily distracted
- Is often forgetful in daily activities
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
- Often runs about or climbs in situations when it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless)
- Is often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly
- Is often on the go, acting as if driven by a motor
- Often talks excessively
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
- Often has trouble waiting their turn
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
Individuals 17 years old or older require five out of nine symptoms in one group and/or the other to confirm a diagnosis of ADHD. In addition, a number of symptoms that go along with ADHD but are not in the diagnostic criteria are also important and can be quite impairing. These include executive function deficits and trouble with organization, prioritization, planning, procrastination, and time management.
There are two types of adult ADHD: adult onset and adult presentation. A minority of people have adult onset ADHD, but it’s not common. The majority of cases have some symptoms that go back to childhood. Most high-functioning adults that come into my office were not diagnosed in childhood. They’ve gotten by, and are bright and found a way to get around symptoms until life became more complex.
If you have trouble being patient with your kids, feel like you can’t stay on top of everything, can’t seem to get to anything on time, lack the motivation to get things done, have a child with ADHD and see some of your own personality traits in the child, or remember having trouble concentrating and studying in high school or college, these could all be potential consequences of having untreated ADHD.
To confirm a diagnosis of adult presentation ADHD, symptoms must have begun before you were 12 years old and must have continued for more than six months. Symptoms must also occur in two or more settings — such as home, school, work, or social situations — and cause some impairment. Finally, your healthcare provider must confirm that your symptoms are from ADHD and not something else, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or substance abuse.
Step 2 – Figure out who your should talk to
Who You Should Talk To: What Doctors and Specialists Help Diagnose ADHD in Adults?
Randi + Jess recommend visiting the website ADHD in Adults and taking the six-question ADHD screener. You can bring it to your regular primary care doctor, and they can score it for you. A psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, or nurse practitioner could also do it for you, he adds.
How To Talk To Doctor About ADHD: 1 on 1
Although ADHD cannot be cured, it can be treated. In most cases, people wait too long to bring their ADHD symptoms up to their physicians or even therapists. Just bring it to their attention!
People with ADHD symptoms may hesitate to mention their worries about the condition to their doctor because they fear they'll be labeled a hypochondriac or drug seeking. Don't stress about that – professional know what to look for.
Once you’ve made the decision to discuss your ADHD symptoms with your doctor, it’s good to have a plan for how you will address the issue. Here are some suggestions on how to talk to your doctor about ADHD.
Step 3 Don’t Worry About Your Doctor Labeling You
Put away your fears about being labeled a hypochondriac. Trust your instincts if you think you have the condition or have had it for a long time.
Step 4 Make a Specific Appointment to Discuss Your ADHD Symptoms
State ADHD as your reason for seeing the doctor when you make your appointment. Don’t just bring it up at the end of an appointment for something else. Instead, make an appointment specifically to discuss ADHD.
Step 5 How To Talk To Doctor About ADHD: Explain Your Symptoms With Real-Life Examples
Discuss your ADHD symptoms with your doctor and give examples of how they interfere with your daily life.
Step 6 How To Talk To Doctor About ADHD: Be Honest
If you’ve self-diagnosed ADHD and tried medication (such as your child's ADHD medication), tell your doctor. Although it’s never a good idea to take medication that hasn’t been prescribed to you by your doctor, it’s important to be honest, and it may even be useful for a proper prescription. In Jess' case it was an honest mistake!
Step 7 – Think of Questions to Ask Your Doctor About ADHD
Once you confirm a diagnosis of ADHD, you can use medicine or one of the psychosocial treatments, mostly cognitive behavioral therapy.
How To Talk To Doctor About ADHD: ASK What Medication Options for Treatment are Available?
Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) is only one of the many medications for ADHD, and it should not be the only one used for adults, he notes. Currently for adults, there is one approved non-stimulant, Strattera (atomoxetine), and five approved sustained-release stimulants — two of which are Ritalin-based (methylphenidate) and three that are amphetamine-based (including Adderall).
Healthy lifestyle modifications can also be beneficial. People with ADHD can benefit from a balanced, healthy diet; adequate hydration; getting enough sleep; and moderating caffeine if you’re on medication. Some mindfulness therapies can be quite helpful in terms of relaxation techniques too.
Step 8 How To Talk To Doctor About ADHD: Keep Track of Your Progress
How Can I Best Keep Track of My Progress With ADHD?
You can track your ADHD symptoms by scaling the 18-item self-report checklist that is an extension of the ADHD screener. If treatment is effective, you would want to see at least a 30 percent improvement in your overall symptoms once your get the right treatment and medications.
Can ADHD Get Worse As I Age?
Symptoms will change and flux over time. For women, menopause can sometimes worsen ADHD. Sometimes life changes, such as moving from a more structured to a less structured job, or being promoted and needing to manage others, will have an effect on ADHD symptoms. Or having a child diagnosed with ADHD and recognizing your own symptoms.
For older adults with ADHD, the symptoms and presentation are slightly different, but there’s not a huge amount of literature on the topic. If you’re not sure whether you have ADHD or another condition, talk to your doctor.
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About the Author
Randi Owsley, LMSW is a Licensed Master of Social Worker and clinical psychotherapist and co-host of the podcast Unapologetically Randi and Jess. She has her Masters of Clinical Social Work from the University of Southern California. She specializes in Women's Mental Health Issues, Trauma, Grief and Personality Disorders. You can find more information about her at randiowsley.com and heyrandi.com