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Is the newly approved brain wave test to diagnose ADHD in children really more accurate?

ADD-school-girl-webThe U.S.Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first brain wave test to assist in the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

But Dr. John Bober, a pediatric psychiatrist at Akron Children’s Hospital, cautions that the test may not be more accurate in diagnosing ADHD.

The test, called the Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid, measures a child’s brain waves using sensors attached to his head and hooked up by wires to a computer.

Dr. John Bober

Dr. John Bober

It monitors different types of electrical impulses given off by nerve cells in the brain and records how many times those impulses are emitted each second.

The noninvasive test takes about 15 to 20 minutes and measures the ratio between two types of brain waves: theta and beta. A higher ratio of those waves has been shown to be more prevalent in children with ADHD, according to the FDA.

Augusta, Ga.-based NEBA Health, the testing device manufacturer, released results from a study of 275 children and adolescents with ADHD that revealed the device helped clinicians make a more accurate diagnosis than using traditional methods alone.

“If a child has a positive EEG test and then you put him on a stimulant medication, but the child had inattention only due to bipolar, that would be a mistake,” Dr. Bober said.

However, Dr. Bober said it’s unclear whether the test can differentiate between ADHD and other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.

The theory behind the EEG test is based on whether a child’s baseline condition is more focused or less focused. Just being more or less focused can occur in several conditions, not just ADHD.

“If a child has a positive EEG test and then you put him on a stimulant medication, but the child had inattention only due to bipolar, that would be a mistake,” Dr. Bober said. “Actually, it could make the child worse. So, you have to spend a little bit of time to make sure that they don’t have these other conditions.”

Therefore, doctors must still spend time with children and their families to explore the history and particulars of their behavior.

“Even [primary care physicians] aren’t going to send somebody for a blood test and then make a decision to treat only on the blood test value,” said Dr. Bober. “[This concept] has actually been around for 40 years. I guess the question is why has it not taken off more quickly if this is a valid finding?”

Check out the CDC guidelines to diagnose ADHD in children.

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