Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD)
Search For A Cure
Scientific Breakthroughs & Caregiver Tips
What Causes ADHD?
Fifteen years ago, people argued over whether ADHD was “real” or not. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls ADHD one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children.
ADHD arises from genetic and environmental risk factors that combine to cause susceptibility to the disorder. ADHD is a complex disorder with multiple causes that remain poorly understood. A useful analogy for ADHD is a car spinning out of control. Children with ADHD have either “bad brakes” or “too much gas” in their brains.
Scientists are studying risk factors that affect pregnant women or their unborn children:
- Brain injury
- Exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead and pesticide
- Alcohol and tobacco use in pregnancy
- Premature delivery or birth complications
- Low birth weight
- Cell phone radiation may be a risk. Although the topic is controversial, Experts warn pregnant women to avoid placing cell phones near a developing baby.
The healthy brain effortlessly directs every thought and action. People with ADHD, in contrast, lack the chemical messengers that send impulses jumping from one nerve cell, or neuron, to the next.
The neuron’s powerhouse is the axon, whose radiating branches unleash tiny jolts that shoot electrical signals from one nerve cell to the next.
Neurotransmitters smooth the biochemical pathways as axons fire and impulses jump the gaps between nerve cells. ADHD results, at least in part, from a deficiency in a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. Levels of another key neurotransmitter — dopamine — are also lower than normal.
The brain struggles to function without adequate levels of these critical chemical messengers. Neurons in the brain and nervous system have higher concentrations of proteins that block dopamine transmission from cell to cell. Dopamine regulates emotional responses and feelings of pleasure and reward. Scientists have linked lower levels of dopamine to symptoms of ADHD.
Scientists are trying to identify how faulty wiring in different brain circuits causes inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In research labs, advanced neuroimaging with functional MRI (fMRI) pinpoints regions of abnormal brain activity.
Someday, researchers hope to tailor ADHD treatment to individuals, using both genetic testing and sophisticated brain imaging techniques.
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