Researchers Diagnose ADHD Using MRI to Measure Brain Iron Levels

adhdCould a brain scan help to prevent ADHD misdiagnoses? New research published in Radiology suggests that measuring levels of iron in the brain with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could help doctors more accurately identify which patients actually have ADHD. This could lead to better informed decisions regarding medication dispersal, especially among young children.

The researchers tested 22 children who have ADHD, 12 of whom had never used medication, as well as 27 children who have never had ADHD. The study tested brain iron levels through use of a simple blood draw. The researchers found that the 12 ADHD children who had never used medication tested significantly lower for brain iron, while patients who used psychostimulants for ADHD, as well as the control group, tested at comparable levels.

“Our research suggests that iron absorption into the brain may be abnormal in ADHD given that atypical brain iron levels are found even when blood iron levels in the body are normal,” explained Dr. Vitria Adisetiyo, who is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina. The use of a noninvasive technique as a diagnostic tool for ADHD is important, especially for pediatric populations who are often difficult to accurately diagnose. “We want the public to know that progress is being made in identifying potential noninvasive biological bio-markers of ADHD which may help to prevent misdiagnosis,” said Adisetiyo.

According to the The American Psychiatric Association, approximately 3% to 7% of school-age children have ADHD, making it one of the most common psychiatric disorders to be diagnosed among children. Little is known about it, though, and pinning down a diagnosis can be difficult when many of the symptoms correlate to other genetic and environmental problems. The drugs used to treat ADHD often have significant side-effects, yet 10,000 toddlers in the U.S. are being given medication for ADHD — years before institutions like the APA recommend. Being able to definitively indicate which children do not have ADHD might cut down on over-prescribing.

“As an ADHD Coach, the fact that this sort of research is being conducted is very encouraging. I have often worked with individuals who had an unclear diagnosis because some of the symptoms overlap with other often co-existing conditions,” says Coach Juli of “By properly addressing diet, exercise, and sleep many of the problems with ADHD can be better managed. For people to just jump to harsh medications before getting those foundational units like diet, exercise, and sleep in place is, in my opinion and experience, unwise.”