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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: What Is ADHD?

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What causes ADHD? continued...

The following are other factors that may contribute to the development of ADHD or that may trigger symptoms:

  • Poor nutrition, infections, and substance abuse (including cigarette and alcohol use) during pregnancy may be contributing factors. That's because they can affect the development of the baby's brain.
  • Exposure to toxins, such as lead or PCBs, in early childhood can also affect brain development.
  • Injury to the brain or a brain disorder may play a part in the development of ADHD.

Eating too much sugar does not cause a child to develop ADHD. A proper diet is essential, though, for normal development in children. ADHD is also not caused by watching too much TV, a poor home life, poor schools, or food allergies.

How common is ADHD?

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder of children and is more common in boys than in girls. It most often is discovered during the early school years, when a child begins to have problems paying attention. ADHD can continue into the teen years and on into adulthood.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

If symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by taking a complete medical history and doing a physical exam. The doctor may use various tests -- such as blood tests -- to determine if there is a physical disorder or other problem causing the symptoms.

In 2013, the FDA allowed marketing of  the Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid (NEBA) System, a noninvasive scan that measures theta and beta brain waves. Studies have shown that the theta/beta ratio may be higher in children and adolescents with ADHD than in children without it. The scan, approved for use in those aged 6 to 17 years, is not a definitive test for ADHD. But it may be a useful tool that can provide information alongside  a complete medical and psychological exam. 

Certain mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety disorders, have some symptoms that are similar to those of ADHD. For that reason, a complete psychiatric assessment is needed to accurately diagnosis ADHD.

If no physical disorder is found, the child may be referred to a specialist in childhood development disorders. That may be a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist, a pediatric neurologist, a developmental pediatrician, or another health professional. It should be someone specially trained to diagnose and treat ADHD. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the child's symptoms and behavior. The doctor may ask for input from the child's parents, teachers, and other adults who are familiar with the child's symptoms.

Researchers all agree that ADHD is not an adult-onset disorder. To be ADHD, symptoms must be verified as being present before age 12. Adults who are thought to have ADHD will be asked questions about their childhood. In particular, they will be asked about such things as:

  • Behavior
  • Development
  • Relationships
  • Achievement
  • Grades

The answers will help the doctor make an accurate ADHD diagnosis.

For in depth information, see WebMD's ADHD Diagnosis.

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