Experts do not fully understand the causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Brain differences, genetics, head injuries, and environmental factors may play a role.
ADHD is a chronic neurodevelopmental condition that can cause inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
ADHD affects around 8.4% of children in the United States. Researchers are unsure what causes ADHD, but research into risk factors is ongoing.
This article looks at potential causes of ADHD in children, including brain anatomy and function, genes and heredity, head injuries, prematurity, and prenatal exposure to toxins. It also looks at factors that do not cause ADHD and the outlook for people with the condition.
Researchers have found that the brains of people with ADHD may differ in structure and function from people without ADHD.
The differences in brain anatomy involve areas that may affect typical ADHD symptoms. However, scientists do not fully understand how these brain differences cause or contribute to ADHD.
People with ADHD may have the following differences in brain anatomy and function:
The frontal lobe is behind the forehead. It is responsible for various functions, including:
- impulse control
- social behavior
- decision making
- paying attention
In people with ADHD, areas of the frontal lobe may mature later than usual. This could affect a person’s cognitive abilities in these functions.
The brain contains neurons, which are cells that communicate signals to each other through connections called synapses.
In children with ADHD, these networks may develop more slowly and communicate signals less effectively. This could affect a person’s ability to:
- pay attention
- switch attention from one task to another
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that help send signals between neurons.
The actions of certain neurotransmitters may be different in people with ADHD. This includes a disruption in the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine plays a role in:
- the brain’s reward system
- emotion regulation
- muscle movement
Other structural differences
Researchers believe genes and heredity are significant risk factors for ADHD. A person with parents or siblings with ADHD is more likely to have the condition.
However, the mechanisms involved in how people inherit ADHD are complex. Researchers
Scientists have not linked a specific gene or combination of genes with ADHD and do not fully understand how genetic changes cause ADHD.
Read more about ADHD and heredity.
Various research has found that traumatic brain injury (TBI) may lead to an increased risk of ADHD. A person may experience this type of injury after a violent blow, jolt, or bump to the head or body, or from an object that pierces the skull.
Researchers have also found that the risk of ADHD in children
A severe TBI can affect a single region or a widespread region of the brain. The bleeding, inflammation, swelling, or damage to nerve cells from a TBI
Researchers associate preterm birth with a
According to a
Scientists do not fully understand the links between preterm birth and ADHD. However, they believe being born before 35 weeks, a critical period of in utero development, means the brain may be immature and underdeveloped.
The lack of development or changes to the brain may contribute to the development of ADHD.
According to a
Prenatal and early exposure to particulate matter can reduce the volume of children’s brains, reduce the ability to think, and lead to behavioral difficulties. Prenatal exposure to particulate matter may also reduce white matter in the brain and increase a child’s risk of ADHD.
Researchers especially link toxin exposure with ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity and developmental delays.
Anecdotally, people link various factors with a higher risk of ADHD, such as:
- eating high amounts of sugar
- a “chaotic” family environment
- watching a lot of television
- parenting styles
- living in poverty
Although these factors
ADHD is a chronic disorder, meaning there is no cure. However, treatment can effectively manage it. Learning specific strategies and techniques can help a person cope.
Scientists do not fully understand the causes of ADHD. However, they believe differences in the structure and function of the brain, genetics, TBI, preterm birth, and prenatal toxin exposure may contribute to the condition.
Although there is no cure for ADHD, people can manage the symptoms and minimize their effects through medication, therapy, and management strategies.