Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that presents in childhood with symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. A core feature of this disorder is that symptoms must impair social, occupational, or academic performance. The diagnosis of ADHD may be established at any age, though core symptoms must have been present prior to the patient's 12th birthday. Management of ADHD is multimodal and typically consists of stimulants (e.g., methylphenidate) in combination with behavioral and school-based interventions. ADHD is associated with adverse long-term consequences including impaired educational and occupational performance and higher rates of substance use and personality disorders.
Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.
The general mechanism is hypothesized to be related to an altered catecholamine metabolism.
- Genetic predisposition: family history of ADHD, polymorphisms of the dopamine, serotonin, or glutamate receptor subtypes
- Prematurity, in-utero exposure to alcohol
- A subset of patients may have symptoms that are susceptible to dietary factors (e.g., food additives, food sensitivities, mineral deficiencies, sugar). 
- Symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity (see “Diagnostics” below)
|Diagnostic criteria (according to the DSM-5) |
Pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity that is inconsistent with the developmental level of the individual and lasts for ≥ 6 months
Poor school performance in children with ADHD is due to inattention/hyperactivity. Their level of intelligence remains normal and is not directly affected by the disorder.
Establishing the diagnosis of ADHD involves identifying comorbid disorders (e.g., learning disability, psychiatric disorders) as well as ruling out disorders that may mimic ADHD (e.g., hearing or visual impairment, thyroid disorders, sleep disorders).
The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.
- Indication: first-line therapy for preschool-aged children and adjunct therapies for school-aged children and adults
- Socio-educational measures
- Behavioral parent training (BPT): teaches parents how to understand and manage their child's condition, how to manage problematic situations, and how to support positive behavior using operant conditioning
- Operant conditioning: an approach in which the desired behavior is modified by positive reinforcement (reward) or negative reinforcement (absence of punishment)
Stimulants, amphetamine derivates
- Drugs: Methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, lisdexamfetamine
- Mechanism of action: indirect and central sympathomimetic activity → increased release and blocked reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine (minor effect on serotonin) → increased concentration in the synaptic cleft
- Adverse sympathomimetic effects
- Epileptogenic potential: reduces the threshold for seizures and tics
- Decreased growth rate (reversible if medication is stopped)
- Rarely, priapism
- Dosage: slow titration schedule, as the drug affects each individual differently
- Substance class: selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI) that increases the concentration of norepinephrine in the synaptic cleft
- Second-line therapy for patients with ADHD ≥ 6 years of age
- Preferred in patients with substance abuse disorder or in patients in whom stimulant addiction may be a concern. 
- Advantage: no potential for addiction → not a schedule II prescription drug (normal prescription drug)
- Limitations: Meta-analyses revealed an increased rate of suicidal ideation in children and adolescents being treated with atomoxetine.
- The persistence of symptoms after treatment predicts prognosis into adulthood.
- In 35–65% of patients, symptoms of ADHD and their associated functional impairment will persist into adulthood. 
- Patients with ADHD are at higher risk of injury (both unintentional and self-injury), substance use disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.