Everything You Need to Know About Hyperactivity

Medically Reviewed By Karin Gepp, PsyD
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Hyperactivity is a physical state in which a person is unusually active. It involves excessive movement, talking, and restlessness. These behaviors can be part of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Treatments are available to help people manage hyperactivity and other symptoms of ADHD.

This article discusses what causes hyperactivity and how to recognize it. It also looks at how doctors diagnose and treat hyperactivity.

What causes hyperactivity?

Child climbing on a playground
Lauren Lee/Stocksy United

Hyperactivity is when someone seems to move around constantly. They may fidget, tap, or talk a lot, even in situations when this is not appropriate. The behavior may also present as extreme restlessness.

Hyperactivity is one category of symptoms associated with ADHD. The other categories of symptoms of ADHD are inattention and impulsivity.

The exact causes of hyperactivity and ADHD are unknown. However, research shows that genetics may play a significant role. Other possible factors that researchers are studying include:

  • brain injury
  • exposure to environmental factors, such as lead, during pregnancy or early childhood
  • alcohol or tobacco use during pregnancy
  • premature birth
  • low birth weight

Learn about the types of ADHD.

What are the signs of hyperactivity?

There are many signs that someone may be experiencing hyperactivity. These include:

  • fidgeting or squirming while sitting
  • not being able to stay seated when others expect them to
  • running around or climbing at inappropriate times
  • showing signs of restlessness
  • being unable to engage in activities quietly
  • being constantly in motion
  • talking excessively
  • interrupting others or speaking out of turn
  • having difficulty waiting their turn

If you or a child in your life is experiencing any of these symptoms, you may wish to ask a doctor to confirm or rule out ADHD.

How do doctors diagnose hyperactivity?

Typically, a doctor or mental health professional can confirm a diagnosis of ADHD. They will only diagnose a child as having ADHD if their symptoms meet certain criteria. These include:

  • Six or more symptoms that interfere with daily life are present.
  • The symptoms have lasted more than 6 months.
  • The person was younger than 7 years when the symptoms began.
  • The symptoms are present in more than one setting.
  • The symptoms cause significant impairment in day-to-day life.
  • The symptoms and activities are not typical for the child’s age and developmental level.
  • Another medical condition does not better explain the symptoms.

To diagnose ADHD in an adult, the healthcare professional will typically need to clarify that the symptoms began in childhood. Adults also only need to experience five of the symptoms to qualify for a diagnosis.

Learn more about diagnosing and treating ADHD.

What are the treatments for hyperactivity?

The treatment for ADHD and hyperactivity generally includes a combination of medication and therapy.

Medication

There are two types of medications that doctors commonly prescribe to help manage the symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity.

  • Stimulants: These are the most common type of medication for the treatment of ADHD. Stimulants work by increasing the chemicals in the brain, including dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals are essential in thinking and paying attention.
  • Nonstimulants: These types of medications take longer to work than stimulants. They can also help with attention, focus, and impulsivity. Doctors typically use these in place of stimulants — if stimulants cause adverse side effects or are ineffective — or in combination with stimulants.

Therapy

Different types of therapy can help manage the symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity.

Therapies to treat ADHD include:

  • Behavioral therapy: The goal of this therapy is to help change your behavior. This may involve teaching you to monitor your own behavior and give yourself praise and rewards when you act in the desired way.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps you learn to be aware of and accept your own thoughts and feelings. This can help you improve your focus and concentration.
  • Family therapy: This type of therapy helps teach family members productive ways to handle disruptive behaviors. It also helps them improve their interactions with the person who has ADHD.

Learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy.

Summary

Hyperactivity is one of the categories of symptoms associated with ADHD. It involves fidgeting, excessive movement, and talking a lot.

The behaviors involved with hyperactivity often have an effect on day-to-day life. They make it difficult to concentrate, stay sitting, and wait your turn.

The treatments to help manage the symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, include medications and therapy. Doctors typically recommend a combination of treatments.

If you or a child in your life has been experiencing symptoms of hyperactivity for 6 months or more, it is best to contact a primary care physician or mental health professional.

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Medical Reviewer: Karin Gepp, PsyD
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 8
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