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BellaOnline's Attention Deficit Disorder Editor

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Diagnosing Attention Deficit Disorder with MRI


Attention Deficit Disorder, also known as ADHD or ADD, is a based brain difference that is biological in origin and has a genetic component. This means that several members of a family may have ADD. It is not an invented disease, contrary to what many people who donít have ADD/ADHD believe. People with ADD/ADHD also have impulsivity, a low tolerance for frustration or boredom, and trouble completing assignments and projects. Tasks are difficult to complete when a person is inclined to forget everyday duties or lacks organizational skills. Often their minds will race from idea to idea, leading to a lack of focus. For some people with hyperactivity, they feel like they need to be moving or fidgeting most of the time. While many people have these traits, the difference with ADD/ADHD is the intensity, duration, and persistence of the traits. People with ADD/ADHD are also energetic, creative, intuitive, and discerning. Often they are the kind of people that we say ďthink outside of the box.Ē While research is starting to show that ADD truly is biologically based, there are people who do not believe that there is such a thing, since there is not one single test that is used to diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder.

Clinicians use a variety of measures that lead to a diagnosis of ADD. These measures vary somewhat from country to country. The first step in a diagnosis is usually noticing symptoms that are of sufficient intensity, persistence, and duration that the person stands out from the rest of his peers. This is true with both children and adults. These traits cause obstacles in life for people with ADD/ADHD, and they start looking for the reasons that they are having problems. To get a diagnosis, find somebody with a lot of experience working with people who have ADD/ADHD. A complete diagnosis is both an art and a science, and it takes a lot of work on the part of the patient and a clinician. The best place to seek help is from a pediatric psychiatrist, who would work with a child or an adult. Another possibility is to locate a developmental pediatrician. These health care professionals work with children. If you donít know a health care professional with experience, call an organization like C.H.A.D.D. or a medical school. The professional whom you choose should take a social and medical history from you and at least one other person. They will look at diagnostic criteria in light of your history. The fact that there is not a single test for Attention Deficit Disorder is an issue in the minds of many doctors and members of the public who think that it is an imaginary disorder.

In June of 2014, the journal Radiology published a story about research using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique called magnetic field correlation imaging. This is used to look at iron levels in the brain. The study focused on 49 children and adolescents who were divided into three groups. The control group had 27 subjects without a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder. A second group of 12 kids had Attention Deficit Disorder, but they had never used medication, specifically stimulants, for the disorder. There were 10 study subjects with ADD/ADHD who had taken stimulant medication to treat their symptoms. Subjects, both with and without Attention Deficit Disorder, had no difference in the levels of their blood iron. What did the MRI show about their brain iron levels?

Test subjects with ADD who had never taken medication had notably lower brain iron levels than the control group. The group of subjects who had taken stimulant medications had brain iron levels that compared favorably to the subjects who did not have ADD. It is possible that taking stimulant medications helps to normalize brain iron levels in children and adolescents who have Attention Deficit Disorder.

Researchers hypothesize that the lower brain iron levels carried by children with Attention Deficit Disorder could serve as a diagnostic biomarker to help clinicians with the diagnosis of ADD. Those children with lower brain iron levels might benefit from stimulant medications. While these stimulant medications do help many patients, some are not helped by the stimulants. Could these be children with ADD who do not have lower brain iron levels? Recent research tends to show that Attention Deficit Disorder is a complex condition with many contributing factors. More research, with larger sample sizes, needs to be completed to show whether this use of magnetic field correlation imaging would truly be an efficacious diagnostic tool.

Further Reading:

Radiological Society of North America. "MRI technique may help prevent ADHD misdiagnosis." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2014. .



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ADD is a Biological Disorder
Brain Imaging Research and ADD
Environmental Toxins and Developing ADD
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Content copyright © 2014 by Connie Mistler Davidson. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Connie Mistler Davidson. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Mistler Davidson for details.

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