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Brain Iron Levels Could Help Identify ADHD

Jun 17, 2014 02:37 PM EDT
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Iron levels in the brain may be an accurate measure to determine the presence and severity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study suggests.
[Pictured: Magnetic Field Correlation (indicates Iron levels) and Relaxation rates (R2) of the subjects. It is clear that the center column boasts darker MFC readings, indicating less iron in the brain]
(Photo : Radiological Society of North America)

Iron levels in the brain may be an accurate measure to determine the presence and severity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study suggests.

The study, published in the journal Radiology, details how brain iron levels can serve as a biomarker for ADHD, potentially significantly cutting the chances of a misdiagnoses of the mental disorder.

Vitria Adisetiyo of the Medical University of South Carolina, who was involved in the study, explained that this is great news for parties concerned about the abuse of medications like Ritalin.

"Much debate and concern has emerged regarding the continual rise of ADHD diagnosis in the US given that two-thirds of those diagnosed receive psychostimulant medications," Adistetiyo explained in a recent statement.

The researcher and her team wanted to determine if iron levels could help identify the presence of the hyperactivity disorder in patients who had never been medicated.

To accomplish this, the team gathered 22 children and adolescents with ADHD. More than half of this group had never been medicated, despite their diagnoses. The researchers also included 27 healthy participants of similar age.

The brain iron levels of all 49 participants were then measured using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique called magnetic field correlation imaging.

Interestingly, the results showed that the 12 non-medicated ADHD patients in the trial had significantly lowered brain iron levels compared to the other two groups. Meanwhile, the medicated group had healthy iron levels that matched those of the control group participants.

"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," Adistetiyo explained.

However, the authors of the study are quick to point out that while brain iron levels remain low in non-medicated ADHD patients, these patients' blood iron levels remained just as healthy as the other two groups. This indicates that ADHD, if left unchecked, may exclusively impact iron levels in the brain - although why this occurs remains to be determined.

The researchers are currently in the midst of verifying these findings with a larger cohort, hoping to determine that exact brain iron measurements can indicate the severity of a patient's ADHD.

The study was published in Radiology on June 17.

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