ADHD is a medical diagnosis. There is, however, no definitive medical test to prove or disprove whether ADHD is present. Diagnosis is determined by discussion with physicians as well as questionnaires completed by patients, parents, teachers and caregivers regarding behavior patterns. This subjective process can make diagnosis difficult, especially when there are additional co-existing conditions.
Additionally, there are a number of other medical conditions that share symptoms with ADHD. In order to receive the best possible treatment, it is important to make sure that you start with a correct and accurate diagnosis. Your physician should complete a thorough physical examination to rule out any physical conditions. Please keep in mind that any of the following conditions can be present alongside ADHD.
The conditions listed here have some symptoms in common with ADHD. Each condition has additional symptoms not listed here. Only those symptoms similar to ADHD are listed. If you have any questions or concerns that you, or your child, may have any of these conditions, you should speak with your doctor.
People with autism can seem to lack the ability to create emotional bonds and struggle with interactions with others. Individuals with ADHD can have difficulty with social skills, appearing as problems with bonding.
Children with autism are often over-excited when in high stimulus environments, mimicking hyperactivity.
Both children with ADHD and children with autism can have a hard time adjusting to change.
Some people with ADHD have hypersensitivity, being distracted or annoyed by scratchy clothes, tags in clothes or loud noises. People with autism can be sensitive to sounds, textures and touch.
People that suffer from hearing impairments can experience problems in social situations and may have underdeveloped communication. They may have a hard time paying attention because of their inability to hear properly. Undiagnosed hearing loss can appear as missing details of conversations, not listening or not paying attention. These symptoms are common in individuals with ADHD.
Not hearing instructions correctly may be mistaken for forgetfulness, a common symptom of ADHD.
Children with hearing loss can become frustrated over their inability to hear correctly, causing aggression, acting out or high energy levels.
Hypothyroidism can create feelings of sadness, feeling down or depression. People with ADHD can also suffer from these feelings, especially if depression is a co-existing condition.
Hypothyroidism also includes symptoms of inability to concentrate and memory problems. ADHD also includes the symptom inability to concentrate, and forgetfulness can be mistaken for memory loss.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron Deficiency in adults causes lethargy, feeling exhausted and irritability. In infants and children, however, the symptoms include irritability, inability to concentrate, impaired cognitive skills and a short attention span. Children with ADHD also show symptoms of inability to concentrate and are distracted easily, mimicking a short attention span.
Lead poisoning, even at low levels, can create a number of problems. Some complications of lead toxicity include mental retardation, decreased school performance, short-term memory problems, inability to concentrate and decreased cognitive function. Many of these symptoms are also seen in children with ADHD.
Mental retardation can appear as emotional immaturity. Some symptoms include limited social skills, school performance issues and needing extra time to learn. Symptoms of mild mental retardation include forgetfulness and the inability to connect consequences with actions. Parents often seek medical assistance for ADHD when children enter school and are having a hard time keeping up with class work. They may also have concerns about social development and their child’s questionable ability to connect their actions to consequences.
Nutritional Deficiencies/Food Allergies/Food Sensitivity
Hypoglycemia, also called low blood sugar, can cause a number of symptoms similar to ADHD including aggression, hyperactivity, inability to sit still or low concentration levels. In addition, low blood sugar can create feelings of hostility and anger. ADHD shares many of these symptoms. Frustration from ADHD often causes anger and agitation in children.
Some people indicate an adverse reaction to chemicals in food, such as, MSG, red dye, corn syrup or additional additives. These reactions can include anger, agitation, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and lack of concentration. This would not be considered to be a food allergy, but a reaction to chemicals in the food.
Some children with mild seizures can experience seizures lasting only a few seconds. Sometimes these seizures are not even noticeable. (Most seizures do not last more than a few minutes.) All seizures cause an interruption in brain activity. After a seizure there can be a period of several hours where someone feels disoriented and confused, causing difficulty following directions or being attentive.
For children with sensory disorder, overstimulation can create symptoms similar to ADHD. They may take risks without understanding the danger, quickly jump from activity to activity, be accident-prone or have difficulty paying attention.
Although people with ADHD notoriously have difficulty sleeping, they may or may not have a sleep disorder. The inability to get a good night’s sleep interferes with many daytime activities. People that lack sleep can have a hard time concentrating, communicating, following directions, and may suffer decreased short-term memory. People with ADHD may experience many of these symptoms, unrelated to getting a good night’s sleep.
Defining Autism. from Autism Society of America Web site: https://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_whatis_home
(2006, June). Hearing Impairment. from Kids Health Web site: https://www.kidshealth.org/teen/diseases_conditions/sight/hearing_impairment.html
(2007, April 12). Hypothyroidism. from Medline Plus Web site: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000353.htm
(2003, March). Hypoglycemia. from National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse Web site: https://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/hypoglycemia/index.htm
(2004, Jan). Mental Retardation. from NICHCY Web site: https://www.nichcy.org/pubs/factshe/fs8txt.htm
(2004, Dec 23). lead Poisoning. from National Safety Council Web site: https://www.nsc.org/library/facts/lead.htm
(2007, May 2). Anemia. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from Medline Plus Web site: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000560.htm
Greenstein, PHD, Doreen B. (1998). Seizure Disorders. from Caring for Children with Special Needs Web site: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/human/pubs/nc16.html
(2006, Aug 4). All About Sensory Processing Disorder. from The KID Foundation’s SPD Network Web site: https://www.spdnetwork.org/aboutspd/index.html
(2006, Oct 13). Understanding Sleep. from National Institue of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web site: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.