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How to use qEEG to Diagnose ADHD


Some people who don’t believe ADHD exists argue that there is no physical signs or tests for it.  Such a claim, while popular, ignores the strong and compelling evidence from PET and fMRI scans that show things like smaller brain size in people with ADHD as well as dopamine irregularities.

But recent innovations in brain wave monitoring may put that claim to rest for good.  There is now a physical test that may be able to diagnose ADHD  up to 90% of the time, the qEEG.

Sounds too good to be true.  That said, the science behind this test does seem to be valid, and a recent test of qEEG ability to diagnose real people was breathtakingly impressive.  In a mix of 500 people, the qEEG tests diagnosed 96% of non-ADHD people correctly (as not having ADHD), and diagnosed correctly 86% of the people with ADHD.

Very impressive.  Let’s go a little more into the details.

What the heck is a qEEG?

A qEEG is the weird sounding abbreviation (“We’re going to have to run a queeg on your son”) for “quantitative electroenchalogram.”  Basically, a qEEG is an EEG that has been converted to a digital format – a computer stores the EEG data which is “quantified.” This is important because the computer can perform a higher level of analysis and check for minute differences that might not be noticed by a person alone.

And an EEG is that test when you wear a cap covered in electrodes.  What the test basically does is detect the electrical activity going on up in your skull.  The best thing about it is that it is non-invasive, not too expensive, and can be done fairly quickly.  That said, they are not yet very common and may be hard to obtain.

We’ve had EEGs for a while, but only recently have we improved our ability, especially by using computers, to analyze them.  With better analytical capabilities, we are increasingly able to develop a model of differences in brain wave behavior between people with ADHD and people without.

One analysis, for instance, showed that up to 80% of people diagnosed with ADHD and tested with an EEG show some signs of brain electrical difference.

Now, some electrical difference is not entirely uncommon. 24.6% of kids with learning disabilities may also have qEEG differences, but possibly of a different nature, and that’s not to mention that some of the kids used to get that number could have had ADHD as well.  After all, a great deal of kids with ADHD also have learning disabilities.  And in “normal” kids (who is really normal?), only 3.3% have EEG irregularities.

Lots of numbers.  What do they mean?

Recently, 176 people with inattentive ADD, 221 people with hyperactive ADHD and 85 people without ADHD were given qEEG tests.  The researchers didn’t have anything else to look at besides the data taken directly from measuring brain waves.

The result?  An astonishing 86% of the people with ADHD were diagnosed – and 96% of those without ADHD were correctly identified.

The next time someone tells you there isn’t a physical cause or aspect of ADHD, tell them that.

Do Medications “Fix” qEEG Differences?

To top it off – and this is like finding a $20 bill in the pockets of a returned pair of lost jeans – medications like Ritalin may actually change the very same brain patterns that can be used to blindly diagnose someone with ADHD!  Not only does the qEEG seem to show clearly that there are brain wave differences, it may also show that medications change those brain waves to something more normal.

It all makes an extremely compelling story.  That said, as always, healthy skepticism is called for, and the word is still out on this new method.

Now, it’s important to note that the research on the effects of stimulants on resting EEG behavior are mixed but generally show little effect.  Which goes against what we just said.  Emerging data, however, seems to show that stimulants do have a significant effect on the EEG behavior of people who aren’t resting – which is how we spend the vast majority of our waking time.

Using qEEG, for instance, Winsberg and his colleagues reported higher amplitude and peak on certain brain waves while performing a task in ADHD kids who took Ritalin as compared to ADHD kids who didn’t.  That activity could indicate better focus and concentration.  Another recent study of 20 kids showed similar positive effects of stimulant treatment, with a lowered theta and somewhat lowered delta brain wave activity.  Both the theta and delta areas seem to be elevated in ADHD people.

The models aren’t perfect, and the exact brain wave patterns that are different in ADHD people still not fully established.  The most consistent finding seems to be an elevation in delta and theta action, with lower levels of alpha and beta waves.  And some EEG studies have shown a decrease in activity in the frontal brain region, while others show an increase.

That the details aren’t worked out makes sense.  This is a revolutionary, break through idea.  And the inconsistencies may be due to different test situations, as well as possibly indicating different types of ADHD.  Amazingly enough, studies which measured brain activity of kids resting have been compared to the activity of kids watching television – which only makes sense that there would be a difference! (Probably for the worse.  I mean, they’re watching TV, right?)

There are other interesting findings from these tests.  2-3% of normal children have an abnormal wave pattern known as epileptiform, for instance, while a much higher 6% of ADHD do.  That specific pattern is important because it may hint at an underlying pattern that only overtly expresses itself in 6% of ADHD kids, but is really present behind the scenes in a much higher number.  Additionally, for those specific kids, it offers a potential drug target.

So far, the qEEG seems to be 80-90% accurate at diagnosing ADHD.  Which is pretty darn impressive for a test that doesn’t ask a single question – just looks at what’s going on in the brain.

We at Health and Life feel this article discusses a fascinating breakthrough – if you agree, please share this article and help fight the popular myth that there is no physical aspect to ADHD.


Epileptiform abnormalities and quantitative EEG in children with attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder
Effects of methylphenidate on quantitative eeg of boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in continous performance test
The Clinical Role of Computerized EEG in the Evaluation and Treatment of Learning and Attention Disorders in Children and Adolescents


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This post was written by on Friday, January 1, 2010. This author has written 223 posts on this blog and has 4861395 total posts views.

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  1. Daniel Hoffman MD

    The “q” actually stands for “quantitative”. What is also exciting is that meds can be chosen based on these different patterns. You wouldn’t use a stimulant on someone with low delta or theta and high beta. See

  2. Thanks for the correction and interesting point, Dr. Hoffman. It’s an exciting time for medicine, and hopefully advances in brain imaging and scanning will put to rest the arguments that ADHD is “all in the head” – yes, of course it is!

  3. I had this done for my son who is nine years old. I had the data looked at and based on his QEEG stimulants would be very effective for his adhd. He also suffers from a mood disorder and the data showed that antidepressants would not work but mood stablizers would. This is very helpful in that it allows us to go right to what works and not have to “try” different meds. This should be covered by insurance before people get prescriptions for adhd. This is definative in my opinion.

  4. I have two wonderful kids with ADHD. Adderall worked but made my son feel “angry” after a year. It would be nice to have a test that could look at both of them and get them on the best course of action. I want them to be able to shine as bright as they are. I will be asking our Dr. about this test. Anything that gives us hope for our kids to reach their potential is a true gift.

  5. I’m interested in having this done with my son who has ADHD, any recommendations on locations for testing?

  6. I am also interested in getting information on where in Northern California I can get my son tested? Can the results/data be sent (electronically) to someone trained in interpretation and diagnosis?



  7. Boston neurofeedback is one that is located in Burlington, MA but I’m sure if you google it you may find it in your area. It’s been around for a while, especially for people who have seizure disorders.

  8. oh and I have since had the results sent via email somehow from the feedback place to my sons doctor, who had it sent away to be analyzed (which is another $600- so it’s expensive). I am taking my son to a doctor from a place called Comprehensive Psychiatric Resources out of Waltham, Ma who specializes in dealing with biological (metabolic and vitamin ) reasons for behavior . I had tried the feedback and when that didn’t work i ended up there. His place contacted the feedback place and had the data sent to them. It’s all out of pocket, but we are now on a gluten free Casein free diet due to tests we ran. It has helped a good amount but hasn’t been a magic bullet by any means. He said if the diet fails then we can start ritalin and if his mood and agression doesn’t improve than we can add depakote for his mood issues. The qeeg showed that stimulants would work as well as possibly mood stabilizers (anti seizure meds) and that antidepressants would likely not work. So it was worth the $$ to me. Because it’s all trial and error anyways with pharm doctors.

  9. darla-
    just wondering what the total cost was for you.

  10. Fantastic!!! Thank you for the information.

  11. Chris-
    Well the QEEG was $800. The neurofeedback that followed after didn’t work, but was covered by our insurance so we only paid co-payments. The next doctor we went to and took all this info along with us is the one who had the disk sent away to be analyzed. That was another $600. That is on top of his $190 per half hr fee and the lab work we had done to see if he had any toxins, allergies etc.. So total we are looking at over 3k since the neurofeedback place over a two year period. Luckily we can make payments at this current place. We recently tried a couple of medications. The first being ritalin, which was not good for our son because of his existing anxiety. I had a feeling it was a bad idea but went along for the sake of the doctor and my husband wanting to. We are now on intuniv which is a non stimulant. It seems to have helped a little with anxiety and I noticed the tics he sometimes gets has subsided. His mood is still horrible to say the least. I can’t wait for school to start next week! I think he needs to up the dose, hes only on 1 mg and I guess the average is 2mg. I will move forward with a mood stabilizer at this point. His mood is effecting his relationships and social development. Hope this info helps.

  12. Emmanuel Goldstien

    This Ghost written article, created by criminal cowards are hurting a childs brain with these dangerous drugs should be smoked out and brought to justice to face trial for crimes against humanity, specifically against children. These writers are evil, wicked, greedy and must be held accountable for their crimes. NOT drug your kids with this garbage..even the image scans can cause cancer via radiation. Stop them.

  13. Emmanuel-
     You sir are on crack imho, as an adult with diagnosed ADHD, and now treated with the medicinal drugs you call evil. There is no true way to explain ADHD unless you have it, the frustrations going through school with teachers saying he can do the work, yet wondering to yourself, why can’t i? What about me is different?  Now finally being treated has put my life on track in ways I never imagined. My guess is you probably smoke cigarettes with your children in the car, believe me this does more harm to your spawn than correctly prescribed medicines. So please do yourself a favor and really become known and get this years “Darwin Award”. 

  14. Oh-Oh…here we go again ! My name is Terry….I have ADHD. I am 52. Whaaaatttt…52 and taking amphetamines 40mg per day ! Your doctor should have his license REVOKED !! Mr. Goldstein would prolly agree. Mr.G…Being an American and a loyal Republican, I respect your right to an opinion. However, you seem to have an “agenda”. Are you against pharmaceutical treatment of this disorder ( yeah…it’s not “made-up” either ), or in disagreement of ADHD period ? Are you a Mormon ? Jehovah’s Witness ? Church of Scientology ? These “experts” seem to have ALL the answers, but seem to only want to be the barnyard roosters and “crow”, but cannot PROVE their assertions ! Mr Goldstein…even SEX can kill ya ! Do you like sex ? I do. My meds have transformed my life. Are they perfect ? No. They just “clear out the fog” in my life so I can, on my OWN initiative, help me to help myself. ADHD is debilitating at times. We STRUGGLE everyday jus ta be normal like other folks do. And no, I did not squawk ” I got ADHD”, jus to get a doctor to “hook me up” with LEGAL drugs either. Some people, mainly addicts, attempt to do that.

  15. @ Terry
    Why did you have to throw Mormons in?
    That was unfounded. 

  16. Hello,

    I am a 19 year old female and I am currently on 10 mg of Methylin. I have a lot of questions about ADHD, and If I should be taking better medicine. I only take a pill once every day, at the beginning of my day. Some of my side effects are: anxiety, upset stomach, and I can’t tell if my mood swings are due to my hectic lifestyle (I live in a sorority and I am Super Involved), or the medicine or something else. I am really just trying to find answers but I am scared that If I say the wrong thing to the Dr. (ie: insomnia–I’ve ALWAYS liked to stay up late), that he will prescribe me something that will throw me totally out of wack. Help!

  17. Miss B. I know what you mean… I fear telling the doctor anything but…. just here to get my script. I have been adhd and didnt’ believe in meds or even adhd…. but my son was diagnosed and my wife said I have all the same symptoms.. so I tried one of my sons 20 mg ritalin and I could actually funtion without the system of people surrounding me to keep me organized. I became a good communicator and I was in sales management and my stats doubled. I could hear what I was saying and watch how others were responding…. My life changed at 35 well 10 years later, to get the same effect it takes 5 30mg a day, (I work 9-10pm) but no doctor will prescribe that amount.. so I end up running out, or borrowing someone elses, just to keep from sleeping for 3 days strait. And if I get overwelmed with a major problem with my business… I will stay up for 2 days and take up to 12 pills. I don’t get high, in fact people don’t even know,,, I am just calm and get ur done. Well I don’t have someone to help control meds. And I am frustrated… the drug store wont give out daily.. and there isn’t a time release safe to despense just 3 a day.. I am in a vicious cycle and life isn’t going well, Anyone have Ideas? I would volunteer for any tests…. metabilizing to quickly? I have been on high doses for a long time… I want to volunteer to tests….. so many questions….???? Help!!!????

  18. Christy Kaczmarczyk

    I was diagnosed with ADHD as a 41 year old adult. Placed on Vyvanse, have a family history of HTN. Have been on Propranolol 40mg BID x 4 years. My PA, took me off Vyvanse for a one time very elevated BP of 200/140 (52 hours awake, only RN on call for company 24/7 at that time. I was not weaned off and feel absolutely “strange”…Why????

  19. Christy Kaczmarczyk

    I also have many mental illnesses. Hx of PPD, PTSD, Bi-polar, OCD, and ADHD. I wonder if my “drug Holiday” was such a good idea x 5 weeks??? Thank you for your reply.

  20. My nephew was diagnosed with ADHD and he is Adderal, but still not focusing; Wondering if there are any testing areas in the Orlando Area, or where I can start my search.

  21. To the author of this article: I see that someone corrected you on what the “q” in “qEEG” stands for, but failed to correct your falsely identifying “EEG.” It stands for ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAM, not “electroenchalogram.”

  22. I am a 39 year old female struggling with ADHD. I currently take Adderall XR 20mg twice a day and 60mg of Celexa for anxiety(throw that into and see what I’m dealing with). I noticed side effects within the first 2 months of taking these meds as prescribed. When I asked my psychiatrists about the “tics” she said it was due to the stress I was under…HUH? After almost one year of battling to find a norm with these 2 drugs and my Psychiatrists I find out not from her or my trusty pharmacy but through GOOGLE!!!…these 2 drugs are not supposed to be prescribed together and I am taking enough to soothe a small ELEPHANT. I am 5’7″ and weigh 125 pounds…not a small elephant. I am now trying to fin a happy place. My psychiatrist has called in sick to my past 3 appointments so I am going elsewhere. I live in Maryland and feel a test like this could be very helpful to get me on track. Is there a place in Maryland that does this?? Has anyone else experienced drug interactions and had to adjust yourself until you find someone to help you? I can’t go cold turkey with the Celexa. Any Suggestions? Thanks for reading.

  23. @Terry Mormons go to doctors and use prescription medication the same way everyone else does. My son has ADHD and is taking Vyvance. It has helped him a lot. I will take him off it for the summer and try to help his symptoms with diet and exercise so that he can gain some weight. I myself take prozac and have tried other antidepressants as well. But I am also trying to eat better and exercise more. It’s all good! Wish we didn’t have to take meds because of the side effects but they make our lives better. I have always wished there was a way to find out which meds would work best for an individuals unique brain chemistry.

  24. To Dan Storer/Jan 9 2011 – For whatever this is worth – here are some suggestions to ward of the burnout you seem headed into: You may have bipolar or be courting it with the routine you describe. You need to get more balance in your lifestyle and get a proper diagnosis from a psychiatrist, hopefully not just your regular MD. Some diagnoses of ADHD are bipolar in disguise. Also study about bipolar and see if it fits. Lifestyle modifications for it are good for anyone in our crazy-busy world. My favorite brain doc, Dr. Daniel Amen, has a website with various questionnaires that my help you on your journey – He also has more info on his treatments at (Note to Marc Rubcich/July 6 1010 – Amen has a clinic in Fairfield, CA).

    To keep pushing yourself and self-dosing is ignoring your body’s and mind’s own messages of when to thrive and when to rest and recover. It could court disaster and a major blow-out (if it is bipolar, that means and “episode”). Slow down, breathe deep, get regular exercise and lots of pure water, avoid processed foods, regulate your sleep habits, set boundaries on your time – be human, not superhuman – these are all healthy lifestyle habits. I congratulate you on your successes. If you feel there is some deeper motivation that drives you past what is healthy, find a good therapist to talk with. Another great resource for uncovering and recovering from those little hidden drivers in our minds is

  25. Erm, the page loses credibility when ‘electroencephalogram’ is mispeled.

  26. Spelling credibility is also questioned when “misspelled” is misspelled!

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