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What are the Causes of DMDD?

Learn about the causes of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and how it can lead to a DMDD diagnosis on HealthyPlace.

The causes of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) in children continue to be debated. Since DMDD is a relatively new diagnosis, there is still much to be learned about this mental health disorder, including pinpointing the primary cause(s).  However, up to this point, research has indicated certain biological and environmental factors as potential causes of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Biological Causes of DMDD

While there are a few biological factors believed to contribute to the development of DMDD, the exact way in which they contribute remains unclear.  Nonetheless, the mechanisms of the brain and genetics absolutely play a role.

Neurological disability – some neurological disabilities, such as suffering from chronic migraines, can be hugely debilitating and affect a person’s overall behavior and wellbeing.  Children and adolescents who have a neurological disability, such as migraines, often develop irritability and aggressive behavior that can become persistent, and in some cases, lead to a diagnosis of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Brain chemistry – certain studies point to brain chemistry as one of the possible causes of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.  These studies show DMDD children have increased activation in areas of the brain (the frontal gyrus and anterior cortex) specific to controlling aggression and inhibition).

Family history - Children of parents with a history of substance abuse and/or mental illness are more likely to develop disruptive mood dysregulation disorder than other children.

Environmental Causes of DMDD

Although there is no one environmental cause cited in the development of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, particularly stressful life events can trigger DMDD, or make the symptoms worse.  Trauma in early childhood (such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse) is linked to the development of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder in children and adolescents.  Other possible environmental causes and risk factors associated with DMDD include:

  • Recent family divorce, death, or relocation
  • Diet – a lack of adequate nutrition or vitamin deficiency (i.e. – iron, vitamin B12, and folate) have been found to contribute to the development of symptoms of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, such as persistent depression and ongoing irritability.

If any of the above-mentioned factors are present in a child with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, it is important to not only treat the presenting DMDD symptoms but also to address the environmental stressor(s).

Prenatal and Perinatal Causes of DMDD

Some studies establish a connection between a woman’s pregnancy and postpartum experience and the likelihood her child will have DMDD.  Maternal depression during pregnancy and/or the first few months following birth was found to increase the child’s odds of developing DMDD.

article references

APA Reference
Jarrold, J. (2018, July 22). What are the Causes of DMDD? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/dmdd/what-are-the-causes-of-dmdd

Last Updated: May 25, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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