MRI Might Help Detect ADHD

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Scientists in China have discovered "disrupted connections" in the brains of children with ADHD. A new study, published in the journal Radiology, looked at brain activity during resting states and found differences between children with ADHD and children without ADHD. Previous studies have often looked at brain activity while focusing on a specific task, this study is different in that it looked at the brain activity during resting.

According to the researchers, those with ADHD had an altered structure and function in several areas of the brain. They believe these differences might be the cause of inattention and hyperactivity but because this was a small study, follow up research is needed to determine if this information can be used to accurately diagnose ADHD.

ADHD is accepted as a legitimate diagnosis by medical experts around the world. Even today, however, there are those who believe it is not a real condition. Some believe it is a concoction of the pharmaceutical industry - as a way to drive up profits. Others believe it is a convenient excuse for poor behavior or laziness. These beliefs are often fueled by the fact that there is no laboratory test which can confirm that a person has ADHD.

A diagnosis of ADHD in children is based on questionnaires completed by parents, caregivers and teachers. Adults complete the questionnaire on their own, with input from parents on childhood behaviors, when possible. The questionnaires provide doctors with information on behaviors and academic performance. Doctors also observe the person's behavior during an evaluation. All of this information is used to determine whether a person has ADHD, however, it is a subjective process.

In recent years a number of assessment tools have been designed to work within this diagnostic process:

  • The NEBA system was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July 2013. This brain wave device uses an electroencephalogram 9EEG) to measure two types of brain waves and the ratio between them. This ratio has been found to be higher in children and adolescents with ADHD. However, some medical experts are skeptical, stating that the research behind the device is limited and that it is not a definitive test but rather a tool to aid in the diagnostic process.

  • The Quotient ADHD System is another diagnostic tool which can be used in children and adults. The test take approximately 15 to 20 minutes and is completed in front of a computer screen. The test-taker clicks whenever a certain graphic is displayed. The machine measures attention, impulsivity and activity levels and is meant to be used as part of the diagnostic process, not to provide a diagnosis. It is used in well-known ADHD clinics, such as the Hallowell Center.

Both of these devices, however, don't provide an indisputable diagnosis; they are only part of the overall process. The Quotient System, for example, doesn't give you a diagnosis but can measure the severity of ADHD symptoms. The researchers in China, however, believe there is a way to definitively diagnose ADHD, not by measuring how well you can focus on a task, but by looking for the abnormalities in the brain. This recent study, however, only involved 33 children with ADHD and 32 children without ADHD. This isn't a large enough sample to draw any definite conclusions, but it is enough to show promise that one day there will be a test that says "I have ADHD" or "I don't have ADHD." This would be welcome news for doctors, adults with ADHD and parents of children.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.