What causes ADHD in children?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

While the exact cause of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not clear, research efforts continue.

Multiple factors have been implicated in the development of ADHD. It can run in families, and studies indicate that genes may play a role. Certain environmental factors also may increase risk, as can problems with the central nervous system at key moments in development.

Risk factors for ADHD may include:

  • Blood relatives (such as a parent or sibling) with ADHD
  • Exposure to environmental toxins — such as lead, found mainly in paint and pipes in older buildings
  • Drug use, alcohol use or smoking during pregnancy
  • Maternal exposure to environmental poisons — such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — during pregnancy
  • Premature birth

Although sugar is a popular suspect in causing hyperactivity, there's no reliable proof of this.

Apr. 24, 2014 See more Expert Answers