How is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), inattentive type, diagnosed?

There is no single medical or genetic test for the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD. To diagnose ADHD requires a careful review of symptoms. A qualified mental health professional, often a physician (psychiatrist, or neurologist) or clinical psychologist, can evaluate the person. The evaluation consists of these three steps:

  1. Confirm the presence of symptoms
  2. Confirm that the symptoms are not due to another mental health or environmental condition (such as increased work demand or significantly heightened stress in a person’s life)
  3. Determine the presence of co-existing mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

Your doctor or other mental health professional:

  • Will ask you for a detailed history about your past and current behavior patterns. The interview will include questions about how you function at work, home and in social settings. Family members or close friends may also be interviewed to verify and provide additional information. The presence of symptoms is not enough. Symptoms must have been present since 12 years of age, must be present in more than one setting, and must interfere with your daily life.
  • Will ask you about your family’s medical history and you may be required to undergo a physical examination to rule out medical conditions that can cause symptoms resembling those of ADHD (such as sleep disorders, learning disability, alcohol/drug use problems).
  • Will ask you to complete a rating scale checklist of symptoms. The psychologist or doctor might use other standardized behavior rating scales.
  • May ask you to take other types of psychological or medical tests to determine the presence of co-existing conditions, such as anxiety or depression.

Technically, to be diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type, adults (age 17 and older) must have:

  • Five or more symptoms of inattention (see symptoms); symptoms can change over time
  • Symptoms must be present for at least 6 months
  • Symptoms must interfere with or reduce the quality of social, home or work life
  • Several symptoms were present before the age of 12
  • Several symptoms are present in at least two major areas of your life, for example, work, home or social life. Some examples might be job loss due to inattention symptoms or financial problems caused by poor organization or failing to pay bills on time.
  • Symptoms are not due to another mental disorder

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