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ADHD: Causes and risk factors

There is evidence that alcohol or drug use and smoking during pregnancy may affect the unborn child, raising the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In addition, prematurely born or low-birth-weight babies and children with a head injury are at greater risk of developing ADHD.

Certain psychological and social factors like poor socio-economic background and severe early deprivation are also risk factors for ADHD.

Research studies have identified some changes in brain development in ADHD patients, such as lower concentrations of a brain chemical called dopamine.

ADHD treatment

ADHD treatment involves managing the symptoms with medication, occupational therapy, and behaviour strategies.

  • Medication: Stimulants boosting certain brain chemicals can help reduce hyperactivity and improve attention in moderate and severe ADHD cases.
  • Occupational therapy: This may improve attention and concentration and help the child to filter external distractions and achieve better motor coordination.
  • Behaviour strategies: Parents and teachers can use strategies, e.g. reward charts, to help promote good behaviour.

“Parenting skills training programmes can help parents learn ways to better manage their child’s ADHD symptoms,” says says Dr Vicknesan Jeyan Marimuttu, Consultant, Child and Adolescent Mental Wellness Service, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Dr Marimuttu also stresses the importance for parents, caregivers, and educators to have a good understanding of ADHD.

“Children with ADHD may also benefit from specific educational support, anger management as well as social and problem-solving skills training,” he adds.

A key aspect of ADHD treatment is loving support both at home and at school. This can help ADHD children better manage their symptoms and build their self-esteem.

Does ADHD increase a child’s risk of developing other health conditions?

Currently, evidence indicates that a child with ADHD is not at risk of developing other physical health conditions. However, there is a high association with learning problems, mood and anxiety symptoms, and conduct disorders.

ADHD children are prone to accidents due to their hyperactive and impulsive behavior. They need to be taught to follow safety rules.

Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD has been associated with poor academic achievement in children. In adults, it has been associated with a higher rate of divorce, substance and alcohol misuse, difficulties at the work place and higher rates of contact with the criminal justice system, underscoring the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment at an early stage.

Ref: R14