Under the Hood

ADHD Diagnosis With A Brain Scan? Doctors See Patterns In MRI

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Doctors might soon be able to more accurately diagnose ADHD using brain scans. CC0 Creative Commons

Doctors might soon be able to diagnose ADHD with a brain scan instead of relying solely on symptom descriptions.

A team of scientists taking MRIs of kids and teenagers who had recently been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder found that three of their brain regions were shaped differently from what is found in healthy brains. The researchers were able to combine that data with information about the brain’s activity to further refine their diagnosis to one of the three specific subtypes of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive and impulsive, or a mix of the two.

“Currently, clinical diagnosis and subtyping of ADHD is based on an integration of parent and teacher behavioral reports and assessment of behavioral problems,” their study in the journal Radiology says. “However, given the subjective nature of these evaluations and the overlap of ADHD with other psychiatric disorders, imaging-based parameters may provide a useful objective adjunct to clinical psychiatric evaluation for diagnosing and subtyping ADHD.”

Experts estimate that about 5 percent of young people may have the disorder, which is marked by issues with attention and hyperactivity.

The findings were based on scans from 83 patients with ADHD and from roughly the same number of healthy controls.

Although previous research has suggested differences in brain volume and the amount of gray and white matter in patients with the disorder, the researchers did not see those effects, according to the study.

The three brain regions that were found to have different shapes were the left temporal lobe, the bilateral cuneus and the left central sulcus. The temporal lobe is known for its role in speech and comprehension while the cuneus is linked to visual processing and the central sulcus is a fold that separates different parts of the brain with different functions.

“The main aim of the current study was to establish classification models that can assist the psychiatrist or clinical psychologist in diagnosing and subtyping of ADHD based on relevant radiomics signatures,” study co-author Dr. Qiyong Gong said in a statement from the Radiological Society of North America.

During their study, the researchers were able to look at the shapes in the brain regions and activity to accurately diagnose ADHD in 74 percent of their subjects and then identify ADHD patients by their subtypes 80 percent of the time.

“This imaging-based classification model could be an objective adjunct to facilitate better clinical decision making,” Gong said. “Additionally, the present study adds to the developing field of psychoradiology, which seems primed to play a major clinical role in guiding diagnostic and treatment planning decisions in patients with psychiatric disorders.”

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