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Is it really ADHD?

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By Kenneth W. Thomas, RN *

You child can be labelled "ADHD" based on a certain list of behaviors. Yet, how can you be sure that your child really has a permanent, incurable brain disorder? Could the symptoms of ADHD indicate something else?

"Doctor, my child doesn't sleep well. He stays busy all the time. One minute he's happy, the next he's crying. He still has some bed-wetting problems and complains about headaches and stomach pains. He's a finicky eater. His teacher says he's restless and doesn't concentrate well, particularly after lunch. When the other students are ready to take their nap, he's just buzzing all over the place and rather unruly."

According to some of the "experts" in the fields of child behavior and "mental illness", this child obviously has a brain chemical imbalance, which causes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As the parent of this child, you may be told that your child's only hope is to take mind-altering drugs to control this behavior. The diagnosis of ADHD can be made in a psychiatrist's or physician's office, without any laboratory tests or any objective testing at all. Even a school psychologist can diagnose ADHD. The list of symptoms is all that's required.

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But is it really ADHD?

ADHD is a list of symptoms. By definition, if you have the list of symptoms, you have ADHD. Yet, does that mean that you have a permanent, incurable brain disease, as ADHD is further defined? If you believe that your child has this brain disorder, you should look back and remember where you got that idea. It's likely that you were convinced of it by advertising, funded by pharmaceutical companies. Their billion-dollar advertising campaign has repeated this message millions of times through television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and the Internet. Groups such as CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Disorder) forward this message as well. Curiously, CHADD, NAMI and other groups that forward the "brain disease" theory are largely funded by drug companies. Or you may believe it because a medical "professional" told you, in his office or other clinical setting. If that's the case, the question to ask is whether he performed any laboratory test to locate this "ADHD".

If you have ever been told that your child has ADHD, or that you have ADHD, the diagnosis could be wrong, in some cases, dead wrong. A pediatric advisory committee for the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended in February 2006 that black box warnings be attached to the psycho-stimulants drugs used to treat millions of children for ADHD symptoms. They warn that these drugs can cause heart failure and sudden death! Recent FDA hearings looked into the fact that these drugs cause serious hallucinations, psychosis, mania, violence, and suicide. The committee recommended that parents be given full informed consent by any doctor recommending psycho-stimulants and the pharmacist filling the prescription. Sales of drugs to treat ADHD soared to $3.1 billion dollars in 2004, equating to tens of millions of people, mostly children, on these drugs.

The matter of the drugs then, and the condition they are supposed to treat, is a very serious issue. The use of potentially deadly drugs to treat non-life-threatening illness is a serious question of medical ethics. This is especially serious in light of the fact that there is no certain proof that even one child actually has the brain disorder termed ADHD. The neurotransmitter theory, though broadly promoted as fact by the industry, has never been proven.

According the Dr. Anthony Kane, M.D., author of "How to Help the Child You Love", the active child described in the first paragraph may be suffering with food allergies or sensitivities. He states, "A large number of ADHD children may be having a negative response to food, and this response may be the primary cause of their ADHD". Dr. Kane also states, "Iron deficiency has also been implicated in a number of psychiatric and neurological conditions, including learning disabilities and ADHD".

ADHD's symptoms can be caused by a multitude of different medical conditions. Unlike ADHD, which is defined only by the symptoms, the medical conditions can be tested for objectively and treated medically, without the need to take behavior drugs to control symptoms.

Viral infections and common bacterial infections of a child's inner ear can cause dizziness and disorientation which can be confused with "failure to concentrate or focus" in class and seem "distracted easily", common symptoms touted as ADHD.

Particularly in the school ages, children are prone to cavities and fillings. Mercury poisoning from the amalgams used for fillings has been identified for years as a source for symptoms of mercury poisoning such as irritability, fits of anger, anxiety, lack of attention and low self-control.

A study in 1994 in the European Journal of Pediatrics showed that mercury from dental amalgams present in mothers during pregnancy do produce detectable mercury levels in their infants up to 15 months after birth. Another study by Kenny S. Crump and others (1998) in New Zealand demonstrated that scholastic and psychological tests were adversely affected by the presence of mercury in children in the 6-7 year old range. Why isn't this at least considered when a fidgety child who is having trouble concentrating in school before we drug the symptoms away with Ritalin, Adderall or Strattera? Why do we only observe the outward behavior and label ADHD before thorough testing for such poisonings or infections?

One state, Arizona, sponsors a broad initiative to screen young people for lead poisoning, which is also known to result in some of these "ADHD" symptoms. The screening for lead poisoning is done medically, by blood test, yielding certain and verifiable evidence of a diseased or non-diseased condition.

In contrast, mental health screening programs, like the controversial TeenScreen, are always subjective in nature, always based on symptoms and thus always uncertain. Schools have been duped into relying on mental health screening to locate children with difficulties. This fraud delivers millions in profit to the drug companies and dubious benefit to children and the schools.

TeenScreen's claim that a "mental health checkup" is just like an eye exam is completely bogus. Nothing could be further from the truth. No objective testing is done for any "mental disorder" ever. Thankfully, the truth about TeenScreen and similar fraudulent attempts to gain new customers for the drug companies is being broadly exposed. Just search the Internet for TeenScreen + fraud to find out.

Numerous physicians like Dr. Kane cite hard facts about treatable conditions that mimic ADHD and what to do about it. In reference to one study, Dr. Kane points out that iron-deficient teenage girls, treated for their deficiency, performed better on verbal learning and memory test then those who did not get their iron deficiency corrected. A key difference in these medical studies is that the "iron-deficient" girls can be verified as such by objective, verifiable medical testing, such as blood tests. ADHD studies are dubious at the outset because the "ADHD" children in the study are identified only by the symptoms. Any conclusion drawn from such a study is questionable.

The fact that most studies of ADHD are funded by drug companies and that these studies produce results favorable to the use of drugs is also questionable.

In my 29 years of experience as a registered nurse, I have learned to carefully observe a patient's symptoms. Subtle changes in skin color, respiratory pattern and mental status are important indicators.

If an elderly person doesn't remember what day of the week it is, that symptom could be taken as an indicator of Alzheimer's disease or dementia. However, such an indicator can also be a precursor of infection or other genuine, verifiable physical illness. Quick onset of confusion or behavior change is a well-known symptom of an infection to those of us working in the nursing-home settings. While we do respond to their symptoms, conscientious professionals do not just medicate without real evidence of what is happening with the patient. Lab test are done to confirm our suspicions and the correct antibiotic is prescribed AFTER proper medical testing is done.

It is appalling that a child can be prescribed mind-altering, potentially deadly drugs for ADHD with no certainty that they even have an illness. The practice of psychiatry diverges greatly from science of medicine. Objective medical testing is not required before treatment is prescribed.

If ADHD is a physical illness, how can it be that a psychologist can diagnosis it? Would a psychologist diagnose heart disease, diabetes or cancer? This may be undeniable proof that "mental illness" is not physical in nature.

The public must demand full informed consent in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of "mental illness". Patients must be given complete testing and competent medical care. Full informed consent would include the true statement that "mental illness" like ADHD may be caused by genuine physical illness and is treatable by medical, non-psychiatric means. It would inform patients and parents that a label of "mental illness" can be a permanent mark on a person's record and may bar them from certain career choices. Also, full informed consent would let parents know that the drugs themselves create a whole new set of problems and dangers, and can cause irreversible damage to the physically, emotionally and mentally developing child.

* Kenneth W. Thomas is a Registered Nurse with 29 years of experience working in critical care units, emergency rooms, medical-to-surgical units, and psychiatric units.

See also related:

TeenScreen Calls Physical Illness a Mental Disorder

Adderall Deaths - Canada Suspends ADHD Drug, FDA Disagrees

ADHD: Eli Lilly's Strattera - Swedish Test Disastrous

ADHD Drugs - Cash Cow For Pharma

AHRP Recommends FDA Actions to Protect Children Rx ADHD drugs

"Some of the children were prescribed anti-psychotics, rather than discontinued from ADHD therapy."

Psychiatric Drugs: TeenScreen Draws Criticism, Legal Challenge

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