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ADHD: Latest Research

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 29, 2021

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was first described in 1902, and research on it continues to this day. Here’s what some of the most recent studies say about ADHD symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.

The Power of Exercise

A recent review of studies suggested that exercise was the most effective nondrug way to improve mental skills often affected by ADHD. These include things like attention span and working memory. Another study found that aerobic exercise may help children with ADHD think flexibly, or adjust to new situations more easily. Another study looked at kids 6 to 10 years old. It found that girls with ADHD who regularly took part in after-school sports had milder symptoms by age 12, compared to girls who played sports less often.

ADHD and Race

A review of studies looked at more than 150,000 Black people in the United States and found that about 15% had ADHD. The researchers who did the review said this suggests that the disorder is more common -- not less, as other estimates say -- among Black people, compared to the general U.S. population. They said their findings show a need for more ADHD testing among Black people from different social backgrounds.

Does Girls’ ADHD Look Different?

A review of studies compared the ADHD symptoms of boys and girls. The results showed that boys tended to be more hyperactive, had more trouble adjusting mentally to new situations, and found it harder to stop themselves from making certain body movements. The researchers said one of the takeaways of their review is that there needs to be more research into how ADHD can look different in girls.

Could Strep Throat Make Children’s ADHD Worse?

A recent study suggested that the bacteria that causes strep throat might make a couple of ADHD symptoms worse in kids. The researchers found that children with ADHD who’d gotten an infection from the bacteria appeared to become more hyperactive and impulsive. But the study only showed a link. It didn’t prove cause and effect.

An Alarming Trend With Teens?

A recent study found that the number of 13- to 19-year-olds that abuse stimulant drugs for ADHD was on the rise in years past. Between 1998 and 2005, the American Association of Poison Control Centers saw a 76% hike in calls about teens abusing these prescription meds. The researchers suggested that this is still a growing problem today. If you have a teenager that takes a stimulant medication for ADHD, make sure they take it exactly as prescribed.

ADHD During College

A recent study looked at how college students with ADHD did academically, compared to those without the disorder. It found that the students with ADHD had lower grade point averages. Also, more students without the disorder completed college than those with ADHD who didn’t take meds for it.

The researchers said their findings highlight the need for students with ADHD to get academic support services before they go to college. They said the support should focus on boosting mental skills like planning and organization. It should also treat any symptoms of depression.

A Tech Treatment Shows Promise

A review of research found that the alternative treatment neurofeedback seemed to lessen children’s ADHD symptoms, as rated by their parents and teachers.

During neurofeedback, a technician places small devices on your forehead called electrodes -- they’re not painful. Then the technician asks you to respond to cues, like a beep or a special video game, while they track your brain activity. The idea is that this may teach you to harness your brain’s electrical activity and boost your attention span. The researchers who did the recent study said most people need 30 to 40 sessions of neurofeedback, and it may cost $4,000 to $6,000.

ADHD Linked to Suicide Attempts

A Canadian study found that adults with ADHD were more likely to try to take their own lives than those who don’t have the disorder. The researchers also found that 1 in 4 women with ADHD had made a suicide attempt. If you’re concerned that someone you care about is thinking of taking their own life, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) for help.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Journal of Psychiatric Research: “Non-pharmacological interventions for cognitive difficulties in ADHD: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”

Preventive Medicine: “Childhood exercise as medicine: Extracurricular sport diminishes subsequent ADHD symptoms.”

Journal of Attention Disorders: “The Acute Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Cognitive Flexibility and Task-Related Heart Rate Variability in Children With ADHD and Healthy Controls,” “Meta-Analysis of Sex Differences in ADHD Symptoms and Associated Cognitive Deficits.”

JAMA Psychiatry: “Prevalence and Risk Factors Associated With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among US Black Individuals.”

Science Daily: “Can strep throat make tics worse in kids?”

Pediatrics: “Adolescent Prescription ADHD Medication Abuse Is Rising Along With Prescriptions for These Medications.”

Journal of Clinical & Adolescent Psychology: “Academic Trajectories of College Students with and without ADHD: Predictors of Four-Year Outcomes.”

Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback: “Neurofeedback and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) in Children: Rating the Evidence and Proposed Guidelines.”

Archives of Suicide Research: “The Dark Side of ADHD: Factors Associated With Suicide Attempts Among Those With ADHD in a National Representative Canadian Sample.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Suicide Prevention.”

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): “Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback).”

Harvard: “Neurofeedback for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

CDC: “ADHD Timeline.”

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: “Effective Health Care Program.”

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