Cause of ADHD Remains a Mystery

Dr. Ram, Meriter Middleton

Dr. Sumita Ram, Meriter Middleton Pediatrics

Recently a parent asked me about how to prevent Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and whether there was an link between TV watching as a child and the onset of the disorder later in life. Unfortunately, the truth is that researchers still aren’t exactly sure what causes ADHD.

Research shows that ADHD is probably genetic and that it may be inherited in some cases. ADHD, by definition, has onset of symptoms before age 7.

There are other factors that may be associated with ADHD. For example, ADHD may be more prevalent in kids who are born prematurely. It is also more common in boys than it is in girls.

We know that ADHD is caused by changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals help send messages between nerve cells in the brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine, for example, stimulates the brain’s attention centers. So a person with low amounts of this chemical may show symptoms of ADHD. This is not something that can be tested routinely in a doctor’s office, however.

The clinical diagnosis of ADHD is based on history (i.e. reported symptoms and observation).

Some wonder whether watching TV or playing with electronics can cause ADHD? To date there has been no scientific study that definitely links the TV or playing too many video games to a diagnosis of ADHD.

There are some studies that show a correlation between TV viewing and attention problems, but this does not necessarily mean that it is a cause and effect relationship. Many children that have been diagnosed with ADHD, for example, prefer to watch television or play video games, because these activities require very little effort and a shorter attention span than say reading a book or completing their homework.

Of course, TV viewing should generally be limited in most children because it has been linked to several adverse health risks including increased risk of obesity and aggressive behaviors. See my post on Kids and TV viewing here.

Happy New Year!

Dr. Sumita Ram
Meriter Middleton Pediatrics

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