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Causes of ADHD: What We Know Today

​Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most studied conditions of childhood, but ADHD may be caused by a number of things. 

Research to date has shown: 

  • ADHD is a neurobiologic condition whose symptoms are also dependent on the child's environment.

  • A lower level of activity in the parts of the brain that control attention and activity level may be associated with ADHD.

  • ADHD frequently runs in families. Sometimes ADHD is diagnosed in a parent at the same time it is diagnosed in the child.

  • In very rare cases, toxins in the environment may lead to ADHD. For instance, lead in the body can affect child development and behavior. Lead may be found in many places, including homes built before 1978 when lead was added to paint.

  • Significant head injuries may cause ADHD in some cases.

  • Prematurity increases the risk of developing ADHD.

  • Prenatal exposures, such as alcohol or nicotine from smoking, increase the risk of developing ADHD.

There is little evidence that ADHD is caused by: 

  • Eating too much sugar

  • Food additives

  • Allergies

  • Immunizations

Why do so many children have ADHD?

The number of children getting treatment for ADHD has risen. It is not clear whether more children have ADHD or more children are receiving a diag­nosis of ADHD. Also, more children with ADHD are getting treatment for a longer period. ADHD is now one of the most common and most studied conditions of childhood. Because of more awareness and better ways of diagnosing and treating this disorder, more children are being helped. It may also be the case that school performance has become more important because of the higher ­technical demand of many jobs, and ADHD frequently interferes with school functioning. 

Additional Information on

Additional Resources:

The following is a list of support groups and additional resources for further information about ADHD. Check with your pediatrician for resources in your community. 

Last Updated
Understanding ADHD: Information for Parents About Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 6/2016)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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