How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

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There is no simple test for ADHD. However, there is a standardized way that ADHD is diagnosed. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a person must have at least 6 inattentive symptoms and/or 6 hyperactive/impulsive symptoms listed in this table (for people ages 17 and older, only 5 symptoms must be present). In addition, the person must:

  • Have symptoms for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities
  • Had several symptoms before age 12
  • Have several symptoms in at least 2 settings (such as home, school, or work)
  • Have symptoms that clearly interfere with or reduce the quality of social, academic, or occupational functioning
  • Have symptoms that are not be better explained by another cause

These are not the only factors that may be used to diagnose ADHD. An accurate diagnosis should be based on a complete history and evaluation by a qualified health care professional.

Click here to learn which health care professionals are qualified to diagnose ADHD.

Health care professionals may take several steps to determine if your loved one has ADHD.

To determine if your loved one has ADHD, a health care professional may:

  • Ask about symptoms (current and past), including severity, duration, and how they have affected your loved one's social, school, or work performance
  • Ask about whether there is a family history of ADHD or other psychiatric conditions
  • Ask about any history of mental health problems (eg, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder) to rule out other possible causes for his or her symptoms
  • Ask about illnesses or other problems when your loved one was young
  • Perform a physical exam and ask about general health status to rule out other possible medical causes for your loved one's symptoms
  • Review your loved one's school records

It is important to distinguish ADHD from other disorders.

  • A number of mental health disorders may have some of the same symptoms as ADHD.
  • It is important to determine if your loved one's symptoms are caused by ADHD or another mental health disorder.
  • If your loved one has any other medical conditions, it is important to speak with the health care professional and the other specialists on your loved one's health care team to make sure you get the right management for your loved one.