Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



The exact cause of ADHD is not fully understood. There are numerous factors that are associated with the development of ADHD. It may be difficult to avoid these factors, but addressing them may reduce the risk of developing the disorder:

  • Psychosocial adversity severe marital conflict, father's criminal behavior, mother's mental disorder, poverty, the child's foster care placement

  • Complications during pregnancy or delivery poor maternal health, fetal distress, low birth weight

  • Premature birth

  • Mother's use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy

  • Lead poisoning although lead exposure does not account for many cases and many children who are exposed to lead do not develop ADHD

Research shows that particular foods probably do NOT cause ADHD.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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