ADHD and anxiety in both children and adults are often found together or may even be misdiagnosed as one or the other. Essentially, depending on the way the disorder presents itself, the problems the individual patient experiences may be caused by either ADHD or anxiety, and it is often difficult to tell which is the problem or even if both are causing problems. It possible for anxiety to make it difficult to process information, in which case a person's condition looks a lot like ADHD. In many cases, complications due to ADHD can also cause anxiety. These two disorders are highly intertwined and connected, and it takes a skilled professional to delineate which problems can be attributed to which disorder.
Most of the time, ADHD is characterized as an inability to focus or complete tasks, combined with excessive activity or impulsiveness. Anxiety, on the other hand, is usually seen as tension, nervousness, or stress, which usually presents itself in physical symptoms like heart palpitations, sweatiness, or headaches. The connection between these sets of symptoms is fairly large, particularly when considering that each disorder can have an inability to focus as a major symptom. ADHD and anxiety are thus often related when both sets of symptoms exist, and it is impossible to separate which problems are caused by which disorder. In these cases, it is commonly said that ADHD and anxiety are comorbid, and the patient is treated for both.
Sometimes, ADHD and anxiety are related because ADHD causes anxiety. It is much less common for anxiety to cause ADHD, although it may emphasize the symptoms. ADHD and anxiety can work together to make symptoms like irritability, impulsiveness, and lack of focus nearly impossible to control.
In many cases, the demands of living with ADHD cause anxiety in a fairly straightforward way. Being unable to meet expectations or complete tasks due to ADHD causes the individual stress, and the constant stress causes him or her to develop an anxiety disorder. The disorder may become worse when the individual with ADHD begins to worry not only about projects that have not yet been completed, but also about projects that have not even been started. Anxiety about things in the future makes it even more difficult to focus, which in turn perpetuates anxiety.
When one disorder is caused by another, it is common for the resolution of the first disorder to also resolve the second. It is possible, however, for a misdiagnosis to make both disorders worse. If a person is suffering from anxiety and is given medication for ADHD, he or she may suffer gravely. Likewise, anxiety medications cannot help people with ADHD. For this reason, it is important to be very sure of a diagnosis before prescribing medications.