Diagnosing ADHD With a Brain Scan: Yay or Nay?

Aha Bob BrainWithout a doubt, science is an amazing thing and strides in medicine are impressive. Many specialists turn to advanced tools to diagnose and better understand attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By studying cerebral function, structure, and chemistry, specialists can discern biological differences in the ADHD brain. But seeing something different does not mean they understand it.

An Interview with Dr. Sarah Cheyette

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing neurologist Dr. Sarah Cheyette. She said, if you performed an MRI on a tomato, you would be able to count exactly the number of seeds and even see their structure. But even after outlining all the data, you would still never know what it is like to taste a juicy tomato. Taste cannot be pictured. In many ways, this explains ADHD.

Observing the Function of the ADHD Brain

Innovative tools, such as single-photon emission computer tomography (SPECT), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and positron emission tomography (PET), all give physicians a window into how the brain functions and a better understanding of ADHD.

People with ADHD exhibit decreased blood flow into certain areas of the prefrontal brain. The lower blood flow leads researchers to believe there is less brain activity in those areas. The prefrontal area is where the brain carries out certain executive functions like attention, planning, memory, organization, and emotional responses.

While these are all facts garnered from years of research, it does not mean that a person with ADHD lacks any of these key elements. It just denotes that visually the brain appears different, not broken or impaired. The brain is a diverse network of communication. Just because a message takes another route does not mean it does not reach its destination. It just travels differently.

Without a doubt, brain scans are useful tools and are valuable in the diagnosis of ADHD even though the results are very cut and dry. Everyone with ADHD is an individual with brain differences. The physician can make a diagnosis using brain scans, but these scans cannot let the physician know how the person will function or react on a day-to-day basis. Everyone does things differently. Doctors and researchers can see the signs of ADHD, but they cannot utterly understand what it is like for each of their patients.


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