Published: Sun, February 19, 2017
Health Care | By Kelly Miles

People with ADHD have atypical brains

People with ADHD have atypical brains

People with ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, have different brain structures than people without ADHD, according to an worldwide team of researchers that conducted the largest brain imaging study of its kind. These differences is most prominent in children, although it can be seen in adults as well.

For the current study, the researchers worked with 1,713 individuals with ADHD and 1,529 without, with ages ranging from 4 to 63 years old.

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.

The scientists evaluated MRI scans and other data from more than 3,200 people, comparing 1,713 patients who had been diagnosed with ADHD to a control group. While the results point to possible places where doctors can look to diagnose ADHD, "unfortunately we don't have objective measures yet for many conditions in psychiatry, and that includes ADHD".

"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.

The Lancet authors said the next stage of research will be to design a study that can track ADHD sufferers as they grow up to understand how their brains develop.

CNN defined ADHD as a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The research team noted that similar differences are common in psychiatric conditions like depression.

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The results showed that the brains of participants with ADHD were smaller overall, and that volumes of five of the seven regions were also smaller: the caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and hippocampus.

Based on the findings of Hoogman and her team, there appeared to be no noticeable difference in brain size or volume, suggesting that the brain changes were not caused by psychostimulants. People still see them as either being hard or else have been the result of parents who haven't managed them well.

Drugs for treating ADHD, such as Ritalin, have been blamed for side effects including weight loss or gain, liver damage and suicidal thoughts. The amygdala plays a role in regulating emotion; the nucleus accumbens is associated with reward processing; and the hippocampus is associated with motivation and emotional problems. "Kids with ADHD often have emotional reactivity and poor frustration tolerance".

Given the differences in brain structure they discovered, Hoogman and colleagues suggest that ADHD should be treated like a brain disorder, and not just some label for poor parenting or hard children.

Children with ADHD can have trouble adapting to new situations or new rules.

Notably, no differences were found in the brain size of people who took ADHD drugs and those who did not. "This is definitely not the case, and we hope that this work will contribute to a better understanding of the disorder".

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