Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

ADHD in Children Health Center

Font Size

Is ADHD Real?

A Challenging Diagnosis continued...

“A [doctor or therapist] could make a mistake, especially if he or she doesn’t have extensive experience with ADHD,” says Imad Alsakaf, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.

More often, though, people with the disorder also have another health problem, like depression or substance abuse. “These issues can mask ADHD, and actually make it harder to get the right diagnosis,” says psychologist Phil Glickman, PsyD.

Saul’s advice is to see a doctor for a full physical exam and health history. He says it’s also wise to see a psychologist. “They have the time to do a very thorough evaluation,” he says.

Brain Differences

Doctors don’t know everything about how ADHD works in the brain. But “imaging tests like MRIs show there are clear differences in people who have it and people who don’t,” Alsakaf says.

He points to the prefrontal cortex, a brain area that plays a role in behavior, problem solving, and emotions. In people with ADHD, its activity is different from someone who doesn’t have the condition.

Still, those differences are not enough to diagnose the disorder.

The Role of Treatment

Some experts point to the fact that treatment works as evidence that the disorder is real.

“When I work with adults with ADHD or parents of children with ADHD who are skeptical, I tell them that research from thousands of patients shows that behavioral treatment like talk therapy and/or medication improve ADHD symptoms” Glickman says.

Treatment often includes taking medication and getting therapy. Because some of these drugs can be stimulating, some teens and adults who don’t have the disorder use them to boost their focus.

“Doctors do see patients who are seeking habit-forming medications and who claim to have ADHD symptoms in order to get a prescription,” Alsakaf says. “But that’s generally not the case.”

If You Have Doubts

You can get a second opinion from an expert, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, who is well-trained to help with diagnosis and treatment.

“He or she can talk to you about how ADHD works in a way that relates to you, and help find a treatment strategy that works,” Alsakaf says. “And that can greatly improve your quality of life.”

If it does turn out to be ADHD, Wedge suggests treatment options that aren’t medications, including regular exercise, limits on screen time (especially with “fast-paced” media like video games), and encouraging self-control to help kids stay calm and do well in school and outside of it.

1 | 2
Reviewed on May 04, 2015

Today on WebMD

doctor writing on clipboard
mother with child
disciplining a boy
daughter with her unhappy parents
preschool age girl sitting at desk
Child with adhd
father helping son with homework
children in sack race