What they discovered was that the brains of those with attention and hyperactivity deficit disorder had 5 areas of the brain that were underdeveloped, when compared with the normal population.
With funding from the National Institutes of Health, researchers from the worldwide ENIGMA ADHD Working Group embarked on what they said is the largest study performed on brain differences in people with and without ADHD.
According to the scans, suspected ADHD sufferers have an overall smaller brain size, which also goes for five specific regions of the brain, including the amygdala - responsible for regulating emotions.
For the authors, ADHD should no longer be considered a behavioral disorder: in view of these results, talking about a cerebral pathology would be more appropriate.
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The study, the largest to date of the brains of those with ADHD, was conducted by The Lancet: Psychiatry.
She says that the "unprecedented size" of their study is crucial because it helped to identify the "very small - in the range of a few percent" differences in brain region sizes. It included data on adults, adolescents, and kids living with ADHD. All study subjects underwent MRI scans to measure overall brain volume as well as the size of seven of the brain regions believed to be linked to the condition: the hippocampus, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, putamen, caudate nucleus, thalamus, and pallidum. The difference would be even greater in hyperactive children, which would explain why the symptoms disappear in adulthood for almost a third of the patients.
Most often diagnosed in children, ADHD is blamed for severe and repeated bouts of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsiveness that can cause problems at school or home. The research team noted that similar differences are common in psychiatric conditions like depression.
The study also took into account people who had taken medication to treat ADHD, such as methylphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin.
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Despite the large numbers of participants of all ages, the study was not created to investigate how ADHD might develop over a person's lifetime. The role of the hippocampus is less clear, but the researchers think it may have to do with motivation and emotion regulation. "This is definitely not the case, and we hope that this work will contribute to a better understanding of the disorder".
Furthermore, the review has shown an insignificant difference in the brain volumes.
The research was praised by Columbia University's Jonathan Posner as "an important contribution" to the study of the condition.
The authors say they hope the research might remove some of the misconceptions about the disorder, and put it on par with more commonly understood mental health issues.
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