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How ADHD affects the Brain

The real effects of ADHD and its diagnosis

by Aastha Singh

Signs of child ADHD to look out for

The APA’s DSM-V gives a criteria on the diagnosis of ADHD. People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development:

  1. Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level.

  2. Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level.


How does ADHD occur?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families. In addition to Genetics (see our blog on ADHD genetics), scientists are stuying other possible causes and risk factors, incuding:

  • Brain Injury
  • Environmental Risks
  • Alcohol & tobacco use during pregnancy
  • Premature Delivery
  • Low birth weight

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. Both adults and children can have ADHD. In India, a study entitled Prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Primary School Children that was conducted in Coimbatore found ADHD prevalence in children to be higher than the global estimate, at 11.32%. The highest prevalence is found in ages 9 (at 26.4%) and 10 (at 25%). Further, the study showed that more males (66.7%) were found to have ADHD. Children who have ADHD were also observed to not only have poor academic performance and behavioral difficulty but also had problems with reading and writing. 

Signs of ADHD to look out for

A child with ADHD might:

  • daydream a lot

  • forget or lose things a lot

  • squirm or fidget

  • talk too much

  • make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks

  • have a hard time resisting temptation

  • have trouble taking turns

  • have difficulty getting along with others


How does ADHD occur?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families. In addition to genetics, scientists are studying other possible causes and risk factors including:

  • Brain injury

  • Exposure to environmental risks (e.g., lead) during pregnancy or at a young age

  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy

  • Premature delivery

  • Low birth weight

Is it really JUST in your brain?

The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Psychiatric Association all recognize ADHD as a medical condition. In fact, it’s one of the most common conditions in childhood. Millions of kids and adults in the U.S. have it. Research shows that ADHD is hereditary — one out of four people with ADHD have a parent with ADHD. 

The Brain Functioning is affected in several ways by adhd. The condition has links to abnormal cognitive, behavioral, and motivational functioning. ADHD can affect the regulation of moods, emotions, and brain cell connections. It can also affect communication between different areas of the brain.  The brain networks of people with ADHD may take more time to develop and be less effective at relaying certain messages, behaviors, or information. These brain networks may function differently in areas such as focus, movement, and reward. 

Studies have researched whether there are structural differences between kids with ADHD and those without the disorder. Using MRIs, one study examined children with and without ADHD over a 10-year period. They found that brain size was different between the two groups. Children with ADHD had smaller brains by about 3 percentTrusted Source, although it is important to point out that intelligence is not affected by brain size. The researchers also reported that brain development was the same in children with or without ADHD.

Researchers also looked at the differences in white and grey matter in children with and without ADHD. White matter consists of axons, or nerve fibers. Grey matter is the outer layer of the brain. Researchers found that people with ADHD may have different neural pathways in areas of the brain involved in:

  • impulsive behavior

  • attention

  • inhibition

  • motor activity

Gender and ADHD

The Journal of Attention Disorders reports there may also be gender differences in ADHD. One study found that gender was reflected in the results of performance tests measuring inattention and impulsivity. The tests results showed that boys tend to experience more impulsivity than girls. There was no difference in inattention symptoms between boys and girls. On the flipside, girls with ADHD may experience more internal issues, such as anxiety and depression, especially as they get older. However, the difference between genders and ADHD still requires further research.

Diagnosis of ADHD

Diagnosing ADHD can be difficult as there are no specialized tests for it and oftentimes it can be mistaken for disorders with similar symptoms. This includes:

  • Mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorders, learning and language deficits, or other psychiatric disorders

  • Medical problems that can affect thinking or behavior, such as a developmental disorder, seizure disorder, thyroid problems, sleep disorders, brain injury or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

  • Drugs and medications, such as alcohol or other substance misuse and certain medications

When diagnosing ADHD, the criteria laid down by DSM-5 should be met. Along with this some other procedures are conducted to test for ADHD. This includes physical examination, gathering information about past and current medical conditions and some psychological tests.

 Treatments for ADHD

Standard treatments for ADHD in adults typically involve medication, education, skills training and psychological counseling. A combination of these is often the most effective treatment. These treatments can help manage many symptoms of ADHD, but they don’t cure it. It may take some time to determine what works best for you. 

Living with ADHD

Living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be difficult, as the symptoms can make everyday activities more of a challenge.

It’s important to get the support you need to understand and cope with your or your child’s condition.

These advices can be helpful

  • Planning the day

  • Setting boundaries

  • Giving Instructions

  • Exercising

  • Having a good sleep cycle

  • Eating healthy


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