Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity are considered the hallmarks of a syndrome that has been named Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This diagnosis is only a description of behavior, and the underlying cause of the problem is not fully understood.. As many as 10% of children in the U.S., with smaller numbers of teens and adults, are diagnosed with ADHD, some as young as 2 or 3. The conventional approach theoretically is to attempt to address the behaviors with behavioral management approaches and parent training, followed by medication if the former methods are not successful.
The majority of the medications used are stimulants, such as Ritalin (and its relatives) and Amphetamine (and similar drugs). These drugs have been shown to not be as effective, and to cause significant side effects in children under the age of 6; in fact the ones similar to Ritalin have not been approved for use in children under age 6. Although they are generally considered safe and effective for children ages 6 and older, side effects are relatively common. These side effects include:
decreased appetite and possible loss of weight,
the “zombie effect”,
obsessive type behaviors such as pulling out hair or picking skin or licking lips to the point of soreness,
development of motor or vocal tics.
In people with either a personal or family history of heart problems, it can be dangerous to take these medications due to the risk of increased heart rate or blood pressure. In this situation, the person should have an EKG and blood pressure done before starting medication and occasionally during treatment. Rarely, psychosis can develop as a result of stimulants.
Other medications prescribed for ADHD include non-stimulant medications such as Strattera, which is less effective and carries the risk of possible suicidal or self-harm thinking and behaviors (it is related to antidepressants, which also have this risk). Guanfacine (and its longer-acting sibling Intuniv) and Clonidine (and its longer-acting version Kapvay) are other options; they originally were used for high blood pressure but have been found to reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity and aggression as well as insomnia, tics (such as in Tourette’s DIsorder) and even reduce the symptoms of PTSD and withdrawal from Narcotics. Unfortunately, they cause significant sedation and can result in a drop in blood pressure which can lead to fainting. If these medications are stopped abruptly, spikes of high blood pressure can result. Additionally, the antidepressant Wellbutrin has been shown to be effective, although in people with either a history of seizures or an eating disorder cannot take it due to an increased risk of seizures.
Although not considered by conventional medicine, there are more natural ways to treat ADHD. The first step is to determine if there is a physical or other mental health cause for the symptoms. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Trauma, Psychosis, and Autism are all mental Health conditions that can result in a lack of concentration and attention or hyperactivity. People can also purposefully choose not to pay attention or be oppositional. Food allergies or sensitivities, particularly gluten, dairy, salicylates, and artificial additives/colorings can also be a cause of some of the typical symptoms of ADHD. Other possible causes include thyroid or other hormonal imbalances, Leaky Gut and infections in the digestive system, environmental toxins, vitamin or mineral deficiencies along with a poor diet, lack of sleep (which could be for many reasons, including sleep apnea) or exercise, high stress levels, among others. Holistic and Integrative methods of treating ADHD may therefore include modifications in diet, exercise and sleep, elimination of foods to which the child is sensitive, healing the gut (removing the bad bacteria/fungus/virus/parasites and replacing them with probiotics), re-balancing the hormones, detoxifying the body, using dietary supplements and/or herbal formulae, teaching stress reduction and self control skills, acupuncture/acupressure, and EEG Neurofeedback.