People with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have different brain structures from those without the condition, a recent study suggests. Researchers found certain key areas of the brain were a smaller volume among patients with ADHD than those measured in people without the condition. This difference was more noticeable in children than adults.
The study, conducted by the ENIGMA ADHD Working Group and published in the Lancet Psychiatry, used MRI scans to analyze the brains of more than 3,000 patients. The results revealed that of seven subcortical brain regions examined, five were smaller than those in the control group. Researchers involved in the study claim these differences in brain volume suggest ADHD is caused by a physical disorder in the area of the brain regulating emotion.
ADHD is a mental health condition with a variety of different symptoms, including: impulsive behavior, inattention, hyperactivity, mood swings and an inability to complete tasks. These symptoms often cause problems in the every life of patients, having an adverse effect on work, relationships and family life. The American Psychiatric Association reports five percent of children have ADHD, while other studies estimate it is a higher proportion. A range of medications are used to treat the condition, including Adderall, Focalin and Ritalin.
Martine Hoogman MD, geneticist at Radboud University and first author of the report, asserted: “I think most scientists in the field already know that the brains of people with ADHD show differences, but I now hope to have shown convincing evidence.” The study offers further evidence ADHD is caused by a measurable difference in the brain, rather than behavioral or environmental causes. Analysis linked expression of ADHD with three regions of the brain - the hippocampus, amygdala and accumbens - that previously were not associated with the condition.
"We hope that this will help to reduce stigma that ADHD is 'just a label' for difficult children or caused by poor parenting. This is definitely not the case,” Hoogman stated. She added the results of the study should improve understanding of the disorder. Previous studies suggested a connection between brain volume and ADHD, but this was the first study to examine this in a significant sample of patients with the condition.
Behavioral therapy and lifestyle coaching is often the first stage of treatment for ADHD. This is often followed by or used alongside medication to control symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 70 percent of children with the condition exhibit fewer symptoms when prescribed stimulant medication such as Ritalin. Nonstimulants such as Atomoxetine or Clonidine are also an option, but are believed to be less effective.
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