What We Learned About ADHD in 2014

Health Writer

ADHD is one of the most researched childhood disorders. Throughout the past couple of decades, researchers have sought answers to questions such as: what causes ADHD, why has there been such a dramatic increase in diagnoses and what is the best way to treat it? 2014 is no exception. The following are 12 studies released in 2014 to help us better diagnose, understand and treat ADHD.

Why Do Some People Continue to Have ADHD as Adults and Others Do Not? - A study completed at the National Human Genome Research Institute found there were direct correlations between the thickening of the brain cortex and ADHD symptoms in adulthood. In those people where the cortex did not thicken - the symptoms of ADHD remained. While the study doesn't explain why or help us find solutions, it is a first step in understanding why some people with ADHD tend to "outgrow" symptoms and others do not.

Chemical Exposure and ADHD - The rise in the number of ADHD diagnoses over the past three decades has been alarming to many people. Certainly, we know more about ADHD now. We can identify it earlier and with more accuracy. These factors contribute to the rise, however, many scientists believe they aren't the only cause. Neurotoxins in the environment might also be contributing.

Acetaminophen May Cause ADHD Like Symptoms -  A study completed in Denmark showed that women who took acetaminophen during pregnancy were more likely to have children who exhibited ADHD-like symptoms and who were diagnosed with ADHD. The risk increased with the length of time acetaminophens were used and when they were used (when used in later trimesters, the risk increased.) No one is yet suggesting women who are pregnant stop taking acetaminophens, however, the scientists do believe further research is needed to determine if there is a link.

Tougher Academic Standards May Contribute to Increase in ADHD Diagnosis -  A book released in 2014 explores the connection between tougher academic standards and the number of ADHD diagnoses. Authors Stephen P. Hinshaw and Richard M. Scheffler researched this topic and believe that as we expect more from students, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD rises. They acknowledge that ADHD is a real diagnosis but also believe that symptoms are more difficult to manage with the more stringent requirements of school.

Could Stimulant Use in Children with ADHD Contribute to Later Obesity? -  Stimulant medications are considered to be effective in treating ADHD symptoms, however, their safety, especially with long-term use, has been debated for years. One study looked at whether those who take stimulant medication might have a higher risk of developing obesity. The researchers found that children taking stimulant medication had a slower BMI growth in early childhood but a rapid BMI growth during adolescence, which might contribute to obesity in these children.

Does Childhood Abuse Contribute to ADHD Behaviors? - A study released in March 2014 shows that people who suffered abuse during childhood were six times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers came up with four possible explanations for this link: signs of abuse were misdiagnosed as ADHD, children with ADHD misbehave more often and more likely to be disciplined harshly, parents of children with ADHD are more likely to also have ADHD and overreact to behavioral issues or the trauma associated with abuse causes changes in the brain which cause symptoms of ADHD.

MRI Might Help Detect ADHD - One of the most debated aspects of ADHD is that there is no definitive, laboratory test to diagnose the disorder. The process of diagnosis is completed through a series of screening questionnaires and direct observation. While many experts agree that the process is accurate, others believe that it leads to many children without ADHD being misdiagnosed. Scientists in China looked at the possibility of diagnosing ADHD with an MRI that looked at brain connections.

Low Iron Levels in the Brain may Help Detect ADHD -  This study looked at a different method for identifying ADHD in children and adolescents. Previous studies have shown a link between low iron levels and ADHD, however, blood tests for iron levels did not help in the diagnostic process. This study looked at the iron levels in the brain rather than the blood and found those with low iron levels in the brain were more likely to benefit from stimulant medications.

Involuntary Eye Movements May Detect ADHD - Another study looked at ways to detect and identify ADHD. This study, completed in Tel Aviv, found that children with ADHD had significantly higher blink rates and saccades (quick eye movements) when taking a computerized test than those without ADHD. The researchers also looked at the effect of stimulant medication on eye movements and found it helped to decrease eye movements. The scientists believe, with further research, this type of test could help identify ADHD and determine if a child would be helped with medications.

Exercise in the Morning Can Help Reduce ADHD Symptoms All Day - Daily exercise has been shown to reduce ADHD symptoms. Dr. John Ratey explained these findings in his book, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. The most recent study takes this further and looked at exercise programs instituted in the morning. The researchers found that children with ADHD who participated in an exercise program before school had improved attention, reduced hyperactivity and reduced impulsiveness all day.

Can Omega 3 Help Inattentive Type ADHD? -  Omega 3 has been studied in the past as a potential way of treating ADHD. A study completed in Sweden showed that it can help - but mostly for those with inattentive type ADHD.

Could Pollution Be Contributing to the Rise in ADHD Diagnoses? - We know that ADHD is genetic, at least in many instances. But genes don't explain the rapid rise of ADHD diagnoses or a diagnosis of ADHD when there isn't a family history of ADHD. In this study, researchers looked at whether environmental factors might be contributing to the rise in diagnoses. The researchers found that women who were exposed to pollution from traffic and heating sources might increase the risk of a child developing ADHD. They found that mothers who were exposed to these pollutants during pregnancy were more likely to have children who were diagnosed with ADHD.