"Dr. Kensington, does ADHD exist? Is ADHD even a real condtion?"
I've been asked this question by more than one of the parents in my practice.
As a doctor who treats ADHD, and as the mother of a son with ADHD, I am familiar with the viewpoints that suggest that ADHD is a largely “manufactured” or over-diagnosed condition.
After all, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the
most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder among children and adolescents
in the United States. There has been roughly a 50% increase in ADHD diagnoses in the US and UK over the past decade.
It is a neurobiological disorder that affects millions of children and adults in the United States. As many as three to 12 percent of children between the ages of 4-17 and up to 4-6% of US adults are diagnosed with ADHD.
These facts may lead to certain assumptions, but the real answer is more complex. So let's dig a little deeper....
Some folks believe that ADHD was invented by the pharmaceutical industry in order to earn profits by creating unnecessary medications for children who are simply behaving like energetic children.
After all, aren't all children occasionally hyperactive? Sure. Do our kids consume too much junk food and spend hours each day consuming media and video games rather than spending quality time playing outside or exercising? Yes.
However, a major difference difference between children behaving like children and children who suffer from ADHD is severity. The diagnostic criteria for ADHD require that ADHD symptoms must inhibit daily functioning such as being unable to sit still in class, chronically failing grades, etc. for a prolonged period of time.
There is a long list of diagnostic criteria that must be satisfied for a diagnosis of ADHD to be given, not just an occasional bout of hyperactivity.
One reason why some argue against the existence of ADHD is that mental health disorders are not diagnosed by medical or lab tests, but rather by observing behavioral and emotional symptoms. This does not make mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety any less real, however.
Further, brains scans of children with ADHD indicate that their brains are 3-4% smaller that non-ADHD brains, and that there is less blood flow to the frontal lobes of the ADHD brain.
The frontal lobes and frontal cortex are responsible for executive functioning and decision-making, and a lack of development in this area may cause the impulsive behavior (acting without considering the consequences) associated with ADHD.
In addition, children with ADHD produce lower levels of the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) dopamine, which is involved in attention, memory, and problem solving. This is also why ADHD medications consist of stimulants that increase the level of dopamine in the brain.
Also, there seems to be a genetic component to the condition because ADHD tends to run in families. In studies of identical twins conducted by the University of Colorado, researchers found that a child whose identical twin has ADHD is eleven to eighteen times more likely to have ADHD than a non-twin sibling.
More importantly, whenever you ask yourself "Does ADHD exist?" just ask anyone with ADHD, particularly severe ADHD that hinders their daily functioning. ADHD sufferers will tell you it is as real as cancer or diabetes.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder inhibits one's ability to maintain grades, employment, engage in healthy social relationships, and increases the risk of accidents. ADHD sufferers are also more likely to suffer from substance abuse and other mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.