Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears recently made a house call to help Ethan, a 6-year-old struggling with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) . Ethan’s parents, Jeremy and Debby, say he has difficulty staying focused in school and displays hyperactive, aggressive behavior that has not improved with medication.

An estimated 5.2 million school-age children in the U.S. are affected by ADHD. The condition is characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactive behavior and a lack of impulse control, all of which can interfere with daily activities and create problems at home and in school.

Causes of ADHD
Although no specific cause of ADHD has been proven, research suggests that the condition runs in families. Symptoms of ADHD also may be related to nutritional deficiencies, as well as medical conditions and environmental factors that affect brain development.

A thorough evaluation needs to be performed by a specialist before a diagnosis is made and a treatment plan is put in place.

Treatment options
Since the symptoms and severity of ADHD vary from child to child, different methods are used to help manage the disorder.

While many children with ADHD benefit from various medications, others may experience an adverse reaction that exacerbates their symptoms. Doctors may need to prescribe different medicines and make adjustments to dosages before finding a treatment that works.

Common side effects of ADHD medications can include:
• Anxiety
• Fatigue
• Irritability
• Decreased appetite
• Headaches
• Nausea
• Dizziness
• Sleeping problems

“Medications are used a lot, and sometimes they help a lot, but there’s so much more to it,” Dr. Sears says.

After assessing Ethan’s disposition and inspecting the family’s pantry, Dr. Sears suspects that some of Ethan’s ADHD symptoms could actually be triggered by a nutritional deficiency. Dr. Sears recommends an alternative, multimodal treatment combining dietary changes, behavioral therapy and physical activities to help Ethan manage the disorder.

Research shows that a multimodal approach is effective for treating ADHD in most children, particularly those who suffer from anxiety or depression. In addition, children who receive multimodal treatment typically show improvements in social skills, and they may require lower doses of medications. In certain cases, after adjustments are made to a child's diet and lifestyle, medicines may no longer be required.

Parents need to work closely with doctors, family members and teachers to develop and implement an individualized treatment plan for each child.

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