Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: What Every Parent Should Know

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Summary & Participants

Almost everyone has heard about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But few people understand what the term really means, or realize how many children and adults may have it. What are the supposed causes and symptoms of ADHD? How is it diagnosed? Join our panel of experts as they address these questions and more.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript

LISA CLARK: Almost everyone has heard about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, as it's commonly known. And you may be aware that there's a debate as to whether it's a real or an invented disorder. But few people understand what the term really means, or realize how many children and adults may have ADHD.

So, does ADHD exist? And if so, what exactly is it? What are its causes and its effects? How is it diagnosed? Well, joining me to discuss and many other issues about ADHD are two experts in the field. Dr. Patricia Quinn is a Developmental Pediatrician who is in private practice in Washington, D.C. And also joining us, Dr. Peter Jensen, Professor of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York.

I think the first thing we need to make clear is whether ADHD is a real disease. Is it, Dr. Jensen?

DR. PETER JENSEN: Well it definitely is. We're able to actually quite accurately and reliably diagnose the condition. We've tested the disorder in many different countries around the world actually. And in every place we've looked, we find that it does exist. That children do have these symptoms and the syndrome. And when it does occur in children, it's very severely impairing and has lifelong consequences for many of these children.

LISA CLARK: What sort of causes have been identified that may lead to ADHD?

DR. PATRICIA QUINN: I think the primary cause is genetic, in that we do see family histories of other members having the same or similar problems—usually several children from one family. There have actually been some recent studies diagnosing certain subtypes of ADHD, finding a gene and a chromosome and being able to identify it by that means.

There's other ways, though, and other conditions. We know chronic low levels of lead can lead to problems. Fetal alcohol syndrome. Prematurity. Obstetrical complications during the pregnancy. Or even infectious disease: meningitis or encephalitis can lead to hyperactive symptoms or inattentiveness in the children who've had these disorders.

LISA CLARK: And just as important as discussing some of the causes is to discuss some of the things that do not cause ADHD. Dr. Jensen, I'll throw that one your way. For one thing, too much sugar is not causing ADHD in children.

DR. PETER JENSEN: No, too much sugar does not cause ADHD. The things that we think have been misunderstood, but at one time were thought to be supposed causes, are bad parenting and bad teachers, not enough discipline, sugar, and food additives. And so there's a lot of myth and misunderstanding. And many times parents or others will chase those supposed causes down, sometimes causing them a lot of grief, and sometimes delaying an effective intervention that really could be helpful to the children.

LISA CLARK: How many children actually have ADHD?

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