What Are The Symptoms, Triggers, and Causes of ADHD?
Updated: Apr 5
ADHD symptoms can be different for everyone, but the three main categories are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
There is no single cause or trigger for ADHD, instead ADHD is from a combination of contributing factors including genetics, biology, and environment.
ADHD has significant overlap with other diagnoses, like anxiety and depression.
Integrative psychiatry provides a holistic basis for diagnosis and management of ADHD.
The symptoms of ADHD can vary depending on the individual, but generally fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is typically diagnosed in childhood but can persist into adulthood. Remember, I don’t love the term disorder here. More on that in some of my other blog posts about ADHD. In this article we’re going to explore symptoms, triggers, shutdown, and where ADHD comes from. We’re also going to look at what other diagnoses could have similar presentation of symptoms to ADHD.
Don’t forget, though, that everyone is different. What ADHD looks like can be dramatically different from person to person.
Symptoms of inattention may include:
Difficulty paying attention or focusing on tasks
Easily distracted by external stimuli
Difficulty following instructions or completing tasks
Forgetfulness and disorganization
Losing or misplacing items frequently
Symptoms of hyperactivity may include:
Fidgeting or squirming in seat
Difficulty remaining still or quiet
Talking excessively or interrupting others
Difficulty playing or engaging in activities quietly
Feeling restless or constantly on the go
Symptoms of impulsivity may include:
Acting without thinking of consequences
Interrupting or speaking out of turn
Difficulty waiting for one's turn
Engaging in risky behaviors without considering potential harm to oneself or others
It's important to note that not all individuals with ADHD exhibit all of these symptoms, and symptoms can vary in severity. ADHD often leads to procrastination, which is really the perfect storm of ADHD symptoms leading to paralysis of action. I recommend having an evaluation to address any symptoms. Integrative psychiatry provides a great platform to isolate symptoms, make sound diagnoses, and manage symptoms from the root cause for conditions like ADHD.
Are there triggers to ADHD?
There is no single known cause or trigger of ADHD, but research suggests that it is likely caused by a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. While there is no definitive list of triggers for ADHD, there are certain situations or conditions that may exacerbate symptoms or make them more noticeable.
Some common triggers for ADHD may include:
Stressful or overwhelming situations
Lack of sleep or disrupted sleep patterns
Poor nutrition or dietary choices
Environmental factors such as noise, bright lights, or crowded spaces
Certain medications or substances, such as caffeine or nicotine
Co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression
Just like with symptoms, important to remember that triggers can vary from person to person and not all individuals with ADHD will experience the same triggers. Additionally, while certain triggers may exacerbate symptoms, they do not necessarily cause ADHD. Again, a holistic approach to ADHD can greatly improve our chances of successfully managing triggers.
What does ADHD shutdown look like?
ADHD shutdowns, also referred to as "emotional shutdowns," can vary in their presentation, but they typically involve a withdrawal or shutting down of emotions and cognitive processes in response to overwhelming stimuli or stress.
During an ADHD shutdown, a person may:
Become unresponsive or slow to respond to external stimuli
Withdraw or isolate themselves from others
Experience difficulty with decision-making and problem-solving
Have difficulty expressing their thoughts and emotions
Become easily frustrated or overwhelmed
Experience physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
Exhibit signs of anxiety or depression
ADHD shutdowns may be triggered by a variety of factors, such as sensory overload, stress, fatigue, or emotional overwhelm. These shutdowns can be distressing for individuals with ADHD, as well as their loved ones and caregivers.
While ADHD shutdowns may be a common experience for some individuals with ADHD, not all individuals with ADHD will experience these episodes, and not all episodes will present in the same way. An ADHD shutdown is really a sign that ADHD is poorly managed. As an integrative provider I work with folks with ADHD in a holistic way to develop good coping strategies that helps us reduce the likelihood of shutdown and to successfully navigate a shutdown experience if we have one.
Are you born with ADHD or is it developed?
The exact causes of ADHD are not yet fully understood. However, research suggests that ADHD is likely caused by a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. The point here is that ADHD is multifactorial, meaning no single factor will lead to ADHD in an individual. The goal here is to understand causes to help improve ADHD symptoms.
ADHD tends to run in families, and studies have shown that individuals with a family history of ADHD are more likely to develop ADHD themselves. Research has also identified certain genes that may be associated with ADHD. We can’t control genetic factors, but understanding them can help us effectively manage ADHD. Interestingly, men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with ADHD, but that doesn't mean women are less likely to have ADHD - it's just that they're often misdiagnosed.
Neurological studies have shown differences in brain structure and function in individuals with ADHD compared to those without ADHD. These differences are particularly evident in regions of the brain that are responsible for regulating attention, impulse control, and executive functioning. Neurological factors are also beyond our control, but we can use knowledge of an individual’s neurology to guide treatment.
Certain environmental factors may also contribute to the development of ADHD. These may include prenatal exposure to alcohol or tobacco, premature birth or low birth weight, and exposure to toxins such as lead or pesticides. Also, the use of screens and other modern day technology are thought to contribute to ADHD. Environmental factors also play a role in how severe symptoms may be. This is the root cause we’ve talked about. Nutrition, physical activity level, and physical environment can contribute to ADHD, so optimizing these variables can have a positive impact on the management of ADHD.
Just to recap here – while these factors may increase the risk of developing ADHD, they do not guarantee the development of the ADHD. The exact causes of ADHD are complex and multifactorial, and research is ongoing to better understand the underlying mechanisms of ADHD. A good grasp on these factors can help guide treatment, including the best medications for ADHD for a particular individual.
What other conditions look like ADHD?
There are several conditions that can present symptoms that are similar to ADHD, and it's important to properly diagnose and treat the correct condition to ensure effective treatment. My goal here is to educate, not elicit self-diagnosis. Please reach out if you’re looking to speak with someone about the symptoms you’re experiencing.
That being said, there are a number of other conditions that may share symptoms with ADHD. The other conditions that might mask or mimic ADHD include:
Symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, can overlap with symptoms of ADHD.
Individuals with depression may experience difficulty concentrating and low energy, which can be similar to symptoms of ADHD.
Learning disabilities can affect a person's ability to process information and can result in difficulties with attention, focus, and impulsivity.
Some symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as impulsivity and distractibility during manic episodes, can overlap with symptoms of ADHD.
Autism spectrum disorder
Some individuals with autism spectrum disorder may experience symptoms such as difficulty with social interactions and hyperactivity, which can be similar to symptoms of ADHD.
I can’t stress this enough, ADHD must be diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation, which should include a clinical interview, medical history, and neuropsychological testing, to rule out other potential conditions that may be causing symptoms. As an integrative provider, I like to conduct a holistic analysis of nutrition, exercise, routines, and lab work - all of which can have a significant impact on the presentation of ADHD.
Summary: ADHD symptoms, triggers, and more
In conclusion, ADHD is a complex condition that can present with a variety of symptoms, such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While the exact causes of ADHD are not yet fully understood, research suggests that genetic, neurological, and environmental factors may all play a role. Other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and learning disabilities, can share symptoms with ADHD, highlighting the benefit in using an integrative approach for diagnosis and treatment. By understanding the symptoms, triggers, and potential causes of ADHD, we have a better chance at long-term success.
If you have any additional questions about ADHD or integrative psychiatry in general, shoot me an email or reach out through my website. If you're looking for a provider and you're in the Washington, DC area, I'd love to help you on your treatment journey!