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Understanding the difference between ADD and ADHD

Anyone with ADHD will have noticed a change over the past decade. The way experts refer to the condition has evolved. Experts have used the terms attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to describe this complex neurological condition for years.
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Understanding the difference between ADD and ADHD


Anyone with ADHD will have noticed a change over the past decade. The way experts refer to the condition has evolved. 

Experts have used the terms attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to describe this complex neurological condition for years. 

ADD was used to describe the condition but it was replaced with ADHD in 1987. Over time, the words we use for ADHD have changed to match our increased knowledge of the condition.  

ADD vs. ADHD: What is the difference?  

ADD was the term used to describe people who struggled with attention and focus issues without a prominent hyperactivity trait. Symptoms such as forgetfulness, disorganisation, and being easily distracted were common. 

However, some people also had hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms. As a result, the term ADHD emerged to represent a broader spectrum of symptoms. 

ADHD was broken down into three subtypes: inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined type. 

The combined type is what most people think of when they hear ADHD but it has both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.  

Different types of ADHD  

Statistics show the most common type of ADHD is the combined type, which accounts for around 50% to 75% of all cases. 

The inattentive type is the second most common, accounting for around 20% to 30% of cases, followed by the hyperactive-impulsive type which accounts for approximately 15% of ADHD cases (NICE).

ADHD symptoms

Symptoms for ADHD differ depending on which type you have. Predominantly inattentive symptoms can include:  

  • Difficulty with paying attention to detail
  • Difficulty staying focussed
  • Difficulty listening to conversations
  • Difficulty finishing tasks

 Problems with organisation and time management

  • Avoiding tasks that need attention
  • Often losing things
  • Easily distracted and forgetful 

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type symptoms include:  

  • Problems sitting still, often fidgeting
  • Difficulty remaining seated
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty staying quiet
  • Always on the move
  •  Frequent talking
  •  Not listening
  • Problems waiting in turn
  •  Interrupting conversations  

Changing terminology – why the shift?  

As experts learned more about the condition, they adopted the term ADHD instead of ADD.  

As ADHD research advanced, it became clear that the condition involved more than attention deficits. It also included hyperactivity and impulsivity. Recognising these facets was crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment.  

ADHD is still divided into subtypes: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. This helps categorise people based on their symptoms more accurately. It enables healthcare professionals to tailor treatment approaches to each individual’s needs.  

The name “hyperactivity” acknowledges that the condition is more than a lack of attention. It includes various symptoms that can affect daily life. 

How do we diagnose the condition?

The symptoms of ADHD can be similar to other conditions or disorders. Because of this, there isn’t one test to diagnose ADHD.  

At the ADHD Centre, we will complete assessments and observations to rule out other conditions. We follow the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), as diagnosis guidelines.  

At The ADHD Centre, all diagnoses are made by one of our ADHD specialist consultant psychiatrists. A diagnosis will be made after completing a standardised questionnaire, as well as an assessment looking at medical and family history, history of symptoms (where they present and how long they’ve been present), and collateral information from people that know you well such as family members and teachers. 

Will terminology evolve further?  

ADD and ADHD represent different stages in our understanding of this neurological condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The change from ADD to ADHD shows that we have learned more about this condition. It also includes being inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. Understanding these distinctions is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. It’s also a testament to the progress we’ve made in recognising and supporting individuals with ADHD over the years.  

What can we expect in the future?  

The terms used in medicine and psychology will continue to change as we learn more from research.   

There has been ongoing research into different subtypes of ADHD. This will help to shape future diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. In the future, we might see more specific terminology to describe these subtypes. This could help tailor treatment and intervention strategies more effectively. 

As we learn more about how ADHD affects the brain, we might start using different words to talk about it. Instead of describing behaviour, we could focus more on the brain’s role. READ MORE HERE 

Some experts suggest using a dimensional approach to describe ADHD symptoms. This approach would focus on the severity and combination of symptoms instead of rigid diagnostic categories. READ MORE HERE 

The field of psychology and mental health is increasingly adopting first-person language to reduce stigma and emphasise the individual rather than their condition. Future terminology may incorporate this approach.  

As we learn more about how culture and context affect ADHD diagnosis and treatment, we may use more inclusive and culturally sensitive terms. We might start using more proactive and preventive words, focusing on early intervention and strategies to prevent ADHD challenges.  

To stay informed about ADHD, it’s crucial to keep up with the latest research and developments. This helps understand any changes in terms used.  

From its initial classification as ADD to its current designation as ADHD, our terminology has evolved in sync with our expanding knowledge. 

This shift in terminology not only reflects the multifaceted nature of ADHD but also highlights the ongoing journey of awareness surrounding this condition. 

As we continue to research, learn, and adapt, we must remember that the labels we assign to ADHD are merely linguistic snapshots of our current understanding.

What remains constant is our commitment to providing support, understanding, and effective interventions for those living with ADHD. 

With each change in terminology, we take a step closer to a more comprehensive understanding of ADHD, striving for more precise diagnoses and tailored treatments. 

ADHD support  

Our experienced clinicians are here to give expert insight, advice, and support for ADHD. Helping you to manage and embrace some of the challenges.  

For more information on how we can help you:  

Call 0808 169 6735  


Follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook or Instagram  

Book an ADHD assessment for an adult or a child HERE  

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599 Wilmslow Rd, Manchester M20 3QD, UK


ADHD Centre in London
85 Wimpole St., Marylebone London, W1G 9RJ, UK


Postal Address
13304 PO Box 6945 London W1A 6US

The ADHD Centre

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We are a team of experienced Consultant Psychiatrists, Psychologists and ADHD Behavioural Coaches.

We have been diagnosing and treating people with ADHD since 2009.

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