People with ADHD have slightly smaller brains than those without the condition, according to a study released Thursday which insisted it is a physical disorder and not just bad behaviour.
The differences were found mostly in children but also in adults with the condition. The link between ADHD and the hippocampus could perhaps arise from that region's involvement in motivation and emotion, they suggest.
Using MRI scans from more than 3,200 people, the researchers found that the brains of those with ADHD were smaller overall, and in five specific regions. The study however is showing that ADHD could be the result of delayed brain development.
"These differences are very small - in the range of a few percent - so the unprecedented size of our study was crucial to help identify these", Dr. Hoogman said.
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Its ADHD project was four times the size of the previously largest study and was conducted at 23 locations in nine countries by 80 researchers, primarily psychiatrists and neuroscientists.
CNN defined ADHD as a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Dr Hoogman said that similar differences in brain volume can be seen in patients with other psychiatric conditions such as major depressive disorder.
Previous studies have found links between differences in brain volume and ADHD, but they were limited by small sample sizes, making it hard to draw any firm conclusions.
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Still, the findings point to areas worthy of further scrutiny, to see if they indeed could become ways to identify people with ADHD. They have unveiled that this neurological disorder involves a reduced volume in significant brain areas, mainly the amygdala, being responsible for governing emotions. The findings on the accumbens, amygdala and hippocampus were new.
"We hope that this will help to reduce stigma that ADHD is "just a label" for hard children or caused by poor parenting", said lead author Martine Hoogman of Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. These were linked to impulse control, attention and processing emotions.
However, researchers found no differences between individuals who were taking or had taken ADHD drugs and who were not, recommending that the brain changes were not brought by psychostimulants. "Kids with ADHD often have emotional reactivity and poor frustration tolerance".
Jonathan Posner, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in NY, also said the research should help families with children diagnosed with ADHD.
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For those who live and work in the field, she says the study's findings could assist in erasing some of the stigma and misinformation surrounding the disorder. The team says that there is now a need for longitudinal studies that follow children with ADHD into adulthood and track brain changes over time.