Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a neurobiological syndrome with an estimated prevalence among children and adolescents of 5%. It is a highly heritable disorder, but acquired factors in etiology are sometimes uncovered that may be amenable to preventive measures or specific therapy. Early reports have described symptoms similar to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder that followed brain trauma or viral encephalitis, and recent MRI studies have demonstrated brain volumetric changes that may be involved in the pathophysiology of the syndrome. The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic Statistical Manual, introduced in 1968, emphasizes symptomatic criteria in diagnosis. Here, an overview of environmental factors in the etiology of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is presented to encourage more emphasis and research on organic causal factors, preventive intervention, and specific therapies. An organic theory and the genetic and biochemical basis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are briefly reviewed, and an etiologic classification is suggested. Environmental factors are prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal in origin. Pregnancy- and birth-related risk factors include maternal smoking and alcohol ingestion, prematurity, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, and thyroid deficiency. Childhood illnesses associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder include virus infections, meningitis, encephalitis, head injury, epilepsy, toxins, and drugs. More controversial factors discussed are diet-related sensitivities and iron deficiency. Early prenatal recognition, prevention, and treatment of environmental etiologies of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may reduce physician reliance on symptomatic modification with medication, a frequent reason for parental concern.

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