Can ADHD in children be caused by heredity? As more and more is being learned about ADHD in this country, this is a question that is becoming increasingly popular among parents who are searching for a possible cause for their child’s ADHD symptoms. However, this question does not have a simple answer, largely because the exact cause of ADHD still remains somewhat of a mystery. There are, however, many theories regarding the possible cause(s) of ADHD, and one of those theories does propose a strong link between ADHD and heredity. In this article we will explore this topic in a bit more detail, first by outlining what researchers think are some of the more likely causes of ADHD, followed by some statistics about ADHD and heredity.
What Is ADHD?
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral/neurological disorder in children, affecting approximately 8%-11% of all school-age students. The condition is characterized by three primary symptoms—hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity—each of which can cause behavioral problems and poor school performance.
ADHD can occur in both boys and girls, although boys are diagnosed with the disorder three times more than girls.
Statistics show that more than 50% of children with ADHD will continue to experience symptoms of the disorder into adulthood, which for adults can pose a number of problems, including difficulties in forming relationships, poor performance at work, and in many cases, substance abuse.
What Causes ADHD?
As mentioned briefly above, doctors and researchers are still unclear about the exact cause of ADHD in children, but studies revolving around certain factors have turned up a list of potential causes, including:
- Environment. In several studies, researchers found a slight link between certain environmental toxins and the development of ADHD in children.
- Trauma. In very rare instances, traumatic brain injuries have been shown to bring about many of the symptoms associated with ADHD.
- Congenital Brain Defects. Congenital brain abnormalities, typically in the region of the brain responsible for attention and activity levels, have been linked with ADHD in children in a substantial number of instances.
- Diet. There are several theories among researchers indicating that certain foods and food allergies can bring about ADHD, including sugar, caffeine and artificial food colors and flavorings
- Genetics. In several separate case studies, doctors have found what they believe to be a strong and reliable link between ADHD and heredity.
ADHD and Heredity
Is the presence of ADHD in children linked to heredity? The answer to that question, particularly in a large number of cases, appears to be yes—ADHD is hereditary. In fact, of all the potential causes listed above, heredity and ADHD have the strongest causal link.
According to doctors, genetic factors appear to play a significant role in the development of ADHD in children. While individual studies have varied slightly, collectively they suggest that heredity is a factor in close to 25% of all cases of ADHD. What this means is that in one quarter of all ADHD cases in children, at least one close family relative has also struggled with ADHD in their life. This is usually one or both of the child’s parents, who in the course of these studies have admitted to having one or more of the three major ADHD symptoms—hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity—that caused them functional difficulty as a child, or continues to cause them problems as an adult. Conversely, in families where neither one of the child’s parents has ever dealt with ADHD, the children in that family are far less likely to develop the disorder.
At this point doctors have not identified a particular gene that is responsible for ADHD, but ongoing research continues to support the idea that the condition does have a biological and hereditary link, and that ADHD does tend to run in families.