What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), inattentive type, in adults?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neuropsychiatric disorder that makes it difficult to pay attention, control impulsivity (taking action before fully thinking things through) or manage excitable behavior (the person is squirming/fidgeting or “hyperactive”). The disorder interferes with the quality of life by intruding on day-to-day functioning.

Three different types of ADHD have been identified based on criteria from the American Psychiatric Association. These are:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation.
  • Combined presentation (inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms are present).

Adults who have significant problems with inattention, but exhibit few or no symptoms of hyperactivity, are said to have the predominantly inattentive presentation of ADHD. People with this type of ADHD have trouble paying attention to details, are easily distracted, often have trouble organizing or finishing tasks and often forget routine chores (such as paying bills on time or returning phone calls).

What causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults?

The causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are unclear, but the condition often runs in families. There appears to be a genetic and neurobiological basis for ADHD. Usually, adults with the predominantly inattentive form of ADHD first developed it during childhood and adolescence. They were likely reprimanded in elementary or middle school, were consistently distracted and turned in incomplete work. However, because children with this form of ADHD usually are not hyperactive, the disorder might have gone unrecognized until they reached adolescence or adulthood. This is especially true for girls and women with inattentive ADHD. Girls may be more quiet and passive than those who do not have the disorder, and therefore they do not stand out in the classroom. At times, adult women can go undiagnosed until one of their children is diagnosed with ADHD. At this point they might recognize similarities in their own behavior patterns and seek professional help.

Researchers are studying environmental trauma (the personal and social interpretation of trauma and responses to the trauma) and other issues related to pregnancy or early life exposure (environmental toxins, alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, premature birth, low birth weight) as other possible factors that may play a role in ADHD.

What are symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), inattentive type, in adults?

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria, there are nine symptoms associated with inattention. Although nearly everyone experiences inattention problems at times, people with the predominantly inattentive presentation of ADHD frequently experience the following symptoms. These symptoms may intrude and interfere in their daily functioning at work, with family members or in social situations. The nine symptoms associated with the predominantly inattentive presentation of ADHD are:

  • Often has trouble staying focused on tasks at work, home or play
  • Frequently does not pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes at work or while doing other tasks
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks or activities (misses deadlines, disorganized work)
  • Is easily distracted
  • Frequently does not follow through on instructions or fails to complete work assignments, chores or other activities
  • Often forgets doing routine chores (like paying bills, returning phone calls, keeping appointments)
  • Avoids tasks that require long periods of mental focus (preparing reports, filling out forms)
  • Often loses items needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Does not appear to be listening even when spoken to directly

Adults may have predominantly inattentive presentation of ADHD if they:

  • Experience serious or chronic problems due to five or more of these symptoms
  • Have no other mental health disorder that could be the cause of these symptoms
  • Have few-to-no symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity

Other psychological conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can also accompany ADHD in adults.

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