Published: Sun, February 19, 2017
Health Care | By Gwendolyn Kim

ADHD has more to do with brain's functioning, not poor parenting

ADHD has more to do with brain's functioning, not poor parenting

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, researchers from the worldwide ENIGMA ADHD Working Group embarked on what they said is the largest study performed on brain differences in people with and without ADHD.

The volume overall was smaller in people diagnosed with ADHD, as were five of the brain regions, the team said.

Similar differences in brain volume are also seen in other psychiatric disorders, especially major depressive disorder, the researchers said.

"These differences are very small - in the range of a few percent - so the unprecedented size of our study was crucial to help identify these", Dr. Hoogman said.

ADHD causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity - and at least one in 20 children in Canada are estimated to have the disorder.

The causes of ADHD are not known, however the condition has been shown to run in families, while premature birth or born to a mother who smoked or abused drugs or alcohol during pregnancy have all been suggested as having a role.

The study, the largest to date of the brains of those with ADHD, was conducted by The Lancet: Psychiatry.

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Previous studies which associated changes in brain volume with ADHD had been too small to be conclusive, the team said. They concluded that this common illness should be considered an issue of the brain caused by delayed maturation.

Nevertheless, these did point to a number of brain differences in ADHD. They have unveiled that this neurological disorder involves a reduced volume in significant brain areas, mainly the amygdala, being responsible for governing emotions.

For the new study, Dr. Hoogman and colleagues measured differences in brain structure from MRI scans of 1,713 participants diagnosed with ADHD, and in 1,529 other people (the controls) who did not have ADHD. That gives researchers more confidence that the changes they found are reliable and worth investigating further. The findings on the accumbens, amygdala and hippocampus were new.

The differences in brain sizes are not the result of psychostimulants, which some of those who have ADHD take as medication.

Finding that the amygdala, the brain's emotional regulator, had the greatest volume reduction in ADHD was particularly important to the researchers because of the ubiquity of emotional problems in the disorder. "This is definitely not the case, and we hope that this work will contribute to a better understanding of the disorder".

To further observe how ADHD manifests throughout life, the researchers said longitudinal studies created to track subjects from childhood into adulthood will be needed and will be an important next step in their work.

The most noteworthy findings relate to the smaller amygdala and hippocampus in patients with ADHD, as those regions haven't previously been conclusively linked to the disorder.

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