"There's no domain of your life that this disorder does not interfere with.
It produces more significant impairment in more areas of life than other outpatient disorders," including anxiety and depression, Barkley says.
Despite the name, the syndrome is far more than a deficit of attention.
"Research shows it's a disorder of executive functioning," Barkley says.
Some of those children seem to outgrow it, but for others symptoms persist into adulthood. Although the disorder afflicts millions of adults, it remains badly underdiagnosed, Barkley says.
In a 2006 study, Russell Barkley, Ph D, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, and colleagues determined that about 4.4 percent of the adult population suffers from ADHD (American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. His study also found that only about 10 percent of adults who met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD had been diagnosed and treated for it.
"The marriage teeters because of that." And because individuals with ADHD are easily distracted, they often forget to do household chores as promised, and may seem to be ignoring their spouses or children.
"The non-ADHD partner interprets that as being lazy and not caring about the family," says Orlov.
Symptoms are thought to stem from underactivity in the frontal cortex—the brain's control panel for attention, self-control and executive functioning.
People with ADHD typically show a decrease in blood flow, glucose metabolism, and levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in that part of the brain, Murphy says.
"It feels like there's a carnival in my head," Elizabeth Stevenson says.
"My brain is going in so many different directions, it's very difficult to look at a list and pick out what I need to do first." ADHD is a neurobiological disorder.
The good news, though, is that adult ADHD is highly treatable, says Ned Hallowell, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating ADHD at the Hallowell Centers in New York and Boston, and coauthor of "Driven to Distraction," a best-selling book on adult ADHD.