New Research on Treating ADHD with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation


Header Image Courtesy of Jesper Sehested

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder primarily impacting the ability to concentrate, sit still, stay organized, and finish tasks. In the past eight years there has been a 42% increase in ADHD diagnosis. The American Psychiatric Association 5% of American children have ADHD, but it can be difficult to diagnose, as many of the symptoms are common behaviors of young children. It typically begins to present between 3 and 7 years old but some aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. The disorder is three times more common in males.

Symptoms and Causes of ADHD

Image courtesy of the Behavior Advisor

To receive a diagnosis individuals must display inattention hyperactivity and impulsivity to an extent that impacts quality of life at home and school or work. It’s not a condition that can be “turned off” so if issues only present in one environment and not the other, other issues may be at hand.

While ADHD doesn’t increase risks for other conditions, many, especially  children, are more likely to experience a range of co-existing conditions including:

  • Anxiety
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Learning disabilities

Similar to many psychiatric disorders ADHD has genetic and environmental influence. While the understanding of where it comes from and how it impacts the brain continue to evolve, current evidence suggest atypical function in fronto-striatum- cerebellum circuit, mainly in the right side being responsible for most of the disturbed motor control and abnormal sensory motor program.

ADHD Treatment

The main neurochemical involved appears to be dopamine, and stimulants tend to show the most promising treatment results, but are also the most controversial treatment.

A new study focused on the use of a non-stimulant drug and repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS).

Proportion of children with ADHD who received different types of treatments. Medicine is most often used, with stimulants being the most popular types of medicine. This could change one day based off of this new research. Image courtesy of the CDC

The drug, Atomoxetine (ATX), is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor and non-stimulant medication for ADHD treatment. Atomoxetine is effective and generally well tolerated in ADHD treatment. It is significantly more effective than placebo and standard current therapy. Atomoxetine is particularly useful for patients who may be at risk for substance abuse, who have anxiety or tics, or who do not wish to take a stimulant. This makes atomoxetine a useful option in the treatment of ADHD in children and adolescents.

box of strattera pills, atomoxetine medicine for ADHD
Atomoxetine (ATX), commonly sold under the brand name "Strattera," is an effective non-stimulant medication for ADHD. Image courtesy of VisualBeo

TMS is a non-invasive treatment for a variety of neurological disorders, when magnetic impulses stimulate neurons and work to rewire neural pathways. It’s ability to target very specific areas of the brain make it beneficial to treat exactly the part of the brain impacted by a disorder. While science continues to research and map what areas of the brain are involved with what, TMS is being used in research to help treat those areas.

The studies combining rTMS with atomoxetine showed positive effects of high frequency rTMS on attention. rTMS, ATX, and the combination therapy proved effective in improving core symptoms and executive function in patients with ADHD. This small sample studies concluded, combined treatment has significant therapeutic advantages over the single treatment groups.

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