What are the causes of ADHD?
The cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not known. It is thought that there may be minor changes in parts of the brain which control impulses and concentration. Although there is no known main cause for ADHD, several different factors are thought to increase the risk of a child developing ADHD. These factors are thought to include:
- Genetics. Genes are passed on to a child from each parent. Our genes determine how our body functions, what we look like and sometimes what diseases we will get. Some studies have shown that certain genes are related to ADHD. A child may therefore be more likely to have ADHD if there is another family member such as mother, father, brother or sister with ADHD.
- Antenatal problems. If a mother drinks alcohol, smokes or takes heroin while she is pregnant, this may increase the risk of her child developing ADHD.
- Obstetric problems. This means problems that occur when a baby is born, such as a difficult labour causing lack of oxygen to the brain. Babies with very low birth weight have an increased risk of developing ADHD.
- Severe deprivation. If a child is severely neglected early in life, this may increase their risk of developing ADHD.
One or more of these factors may apply to a person with ADHD. However, although any of these factors may increase the risk of ADHD, some children with ADHD may not have any obvious factors to explain why they have ADHD.
Factors in a child's upbringing, such as watching a lot of TV or DVDs, or family stress, do not cause ADHD. However, these factors may make the behaviour of a child with ADHD worse. Diet may also be a factor for some children with ADHD.
Further reading and references
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: diagnosis and management; NICE Clinical Guideline (September 2008)
Management of attention deficit and hyperkinetic disorders in children and young people; Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network - SIGN (October 2009)
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; NICE CKS, October 2015 (UK access only)
Post RE, Kurlansik SL; Diagnosis and management of adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2012 May 185(9):890-6.
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