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Medical science has come a long way in its recognizing and treating ADHD. Still, there's no single ADHD test available to definitively diagnose this common disorder.

Talking with the patient and family members may be the most important diagnostic tool doctors have for ADHD. Through talking, the doctor can learn about the patient's daily moods, behaviors, productivity, and lifestyle habits.

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A physical exam will show a patient's overall state of health. But the doctor needs to know what specific ADHD signs and symptoms a child or adult has to diagnose and effectively treat ADHD.

What's involved in the evaluation for ADHD?

The doctor will base a diagnosis of ADHD on criteria from the American Psychiatric Association. The criteria, which you can see at the end of the article, come from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as DSM-V.

The ADHD evaluation may include the following:

  • Talking with the child or adult to get the patient's health and developmental history
  • Talking with the parents or spouse to get the patient's individual and family health history 
  • Talking with the child’s teachers or reviewing an adult’s work history
  • Physical exam
  • Clinical assessment using standardized behavior rating scales or questionnaires (typically filled out by the patients, parents, and teachers)
  • Review of the person's academic, social, and emotional functioning
  • Evaluation of learning disabilities, typically using a psychoeducational evaluation or psychological testing

Further testing is not needed to make an ADHD diagnosis. But the doctor may ask for other tests, including:

  • Checking the person's hearing and vision
  • Testing the blood for lead levels
  • Testing the blood for diseases such as thyroid disease
  • Testing brain waves with an encephalograph to measure electrical activity in the brain
  • CT scan or MRI to check for brain abnormalities

If the patient is a child, the doctor will talk with the parents about the child's ADHD behaviors. The doctor will ask the age behaviors began and the settings where the child displays symptoms of ADHD. The doctor may ask for a behavior assessment from the child's classroom teacher along with current report cards and samples of schoolwork.

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