The adhd wood in living room for medical concept 3d rendering

ADHD Vs ADD. What Is The Difference Between ADHD and ADD?

You may have heard many people using these two terms ADHD and ADD  interchangeably. Do they really mean the same thing? 

ADHD stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and ADD stands for attention deficit disorder. What are the differences between ADHD and ADD? Read this article to learn more about them, and also about some very exciting new therapeutic options for ADHD. 

Are ADD and ADHD the same thing or are they two different conditions?

Based on the old classification, ADD is a type of ADHD that is not associated with fidgeting and constant movements.  

ADHD currently affects 6.4 million children in the US, and about 3 out of 4 receive medication, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Before receiving the diagnosis of ADHD, a parent could get an idea if the child has signs and symptoms characteristic to ADHD. There are three main signs to look for: 

  • Inattention: does the child have problems staying on tasks and not paying attention when spoken directly to ? Any daydreaming or being disorganized? 
  • Impulsivity : does your child make quick last minute decisions without thinking about consequences and long term effects? Does your child interrupt family, friends or teachers on a regular basis?
  • Hyperactivity. Is your child constantly fidgeting, talking, tapping, moving around- especially in situations where would not be appropriate? 

If a child would display mostly signs of inattention- that would have been called ADD in the past, although this label is outdated. 

The latest criteria to diagnose  ADHD(2013)

The American Psychiatric Association (APA)  released the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5) in 2013, and the criteria to diagnose ADHD was changed. There are currently three types of ADHD in both children and adults: inattentive ADHD, hyperactive/impulsive ADHD, and combined ADHD. Adults usually have this condition since childhood, but may receive the diagnosis only later in life. The adult symptoms may also be different due to an increased level of maturity and ability to cope with ADHD-related issues. 

  • Inattentive ADHD, formerly known as ADD,  predominantly involves signs and symptoms  of inattention. A person is easily distracted, but is not hyperactive or impulsive. Being forgetful, unable to pay attention to details at school or work, ignoring when another person speaks (even when spoken to directly), not following instructions, failing to complete projects, troubles staying focused and organized, losing things that are needed to complete important tasks  are other signs of this form of ADHD. 
  • Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity and impulsivity without inattention. A child or adult with this form of ADHD will tend to talk excessively, having troubles waiting for their turn and looking to be always on the go. Tapping with the feet or fingers, fidgeting, getting up from a chair when expected to stay seated, answering a question before the other person finishes the sentence are also signs of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD. 
  • Combined ADHD. As the name suggests, this form of ADHD is associated with symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. 

According to DSM-5, a few other criteria are important to diagnose ADHD. The symptoms should be experienced prior to the age of 12 and affect more than one area of life-for example school/work and home or relationships.  In addition, these symptoms should not be explained by anxiety or other mood disorders. Hearing or vision problems, as well as learning disabilities and other medical conditions, should also be ruled out. 

The severity of ADHD will vary from one person to another. Some cases are mild, and symptoms may occur only when a person has to complete tasks that are less enjoyable. Others cases are more severe, affecting school, work, relationships, social life, and other activities. Comorbidities such as anxiety and depression often worsen the signs and symptoms of ADHD. 

Research also looked at gender differences. Girls seem to be more often diagnosed with predominantly inattentive (or ADD)and have lower self-efficacy and coping strategies than boys with ADHD. The rate of depression and anxiety are also higher in girls and women. Regardless of the type of ADHD, there is treatment available and treatments seem to be equally effective in both males and females.

New therapy for ADHD recently approved by the FDA

While the standard treatment involves a combination of drugs and behavior therapy, new treatments show promising results. For example, a newly approved FDA device known as Monarch external Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (or eTNS) System, can be used for children ages 7-12 who are not on medication.  The Monarch eTNS System is designed to be used at home under the supervision of an adult caregiver. This device generates a low-level electrical pulse that stimulates the trigeminal nerve, sending signals to specific areas of the brain that are involved in ADHD. Brain scans reveal that this device increases brain activity in regions related to emotion regulation, attention, and behavior.  

There are also alternative treatments and over-the-counter meds that can further help manage this condition.