ADHD or OCD? The Best Way You Can Know for Sure

ADHD or OCD? The Best Way You Can Know for Sure

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a national health crisis that continues to grow, yet remains one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly treated illnesses today. ADHD, which adds a hyperactive component to ADD, is a legitimate brain disorder that typically occurs as a result of neurological dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex. ADHD symptoms include poor internal supervision, short attention span, difficulty learning from past errors, disorganization, procrastination, and boredom.

Obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders (OCSD), more commonly known as OCD, are serious and often debilitating disorders that are characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive and recurrent thoughts about things like contamination, doubt, sexuality, and violence. Compulsions are performed according to certain rigid rules and can lead to elaborate rituals, such as hand washing, counting, touching (especially in a particular sequence), and picking skin or hair.

OCD has been mistaken as ADHD by many doctors since both diagnoses share a number of the same symptoms—anxiety, distractibility, perfectionism, impulsive behaviors and impaired executive functioning.

Despite such commonalities, however, a recent study has revealed that ADHD and OCD, though similar behaviorally, are far more complex from a symptom standpoint. For instance, those who struggle with ADHD can overcompensate for their inclination to be disorganized, distracted and inattentive by adopting OCD-like coping skills. Such compulsive tendencies indicate OCD traits in ADHD patients, which can be misleading.

Additionally, a student who seems inattentive and antsy during class may actually have OCD and not ADHD since distraction from repetitive thoughts and fidgeting from compulsive behaviors can both appear to be ADHD symptoms. Since teachers usually equate attention problems and hyperactivity with ADHD, many OCD patients are being misdiagnosed.

With the overlap of ADHD and OCD symptoms, arriving at a proper diagnosis is absolutely crucial since treatment plans may radically differ for both disorders. For example, Ritalin, a common ADHD medication, can actually make OCD symptoms worse. Likewise, ADD symptoms are magnified when occurring together with anxiety, which is a major contributor to OCD.

Since the consequences of being misdiagnosed are potentially devastating, how can you really know if you have ADHD or OCD? And how can you trust standard medicine, which has frequently mistaken OCD for ADHD? Can you afford for them to guess wrong?

The best way to obtain a definitive diagnosis is to get brain SPECT scans at one of the Amen Clinics. If you or a loved one is suffering from any of the symptoms associated with ADHD or OCD, our method of integrative psychiatric support can help. Using innovative and personalized care, our outcomes consistently demonstrate improvement for patients—including many who have tried and failed prior treatment.

Our comprehensive evaluation of your biological/psychological/social/spiritual history, coupled with two SPECT images (in concentrating and resting states), cognitive testing, and clinical assessment is designed to address your unique requirements and offer targeted treatment options.

If you would like to learn more about how brain imaging can provide customized solutions for your needs, please visit us online or call 1-888-288-9834.


  1. Seriously? SPECT is the ONLY way to distinguish between OCD and ADHD? Doubtful.

    Comment by Nolan — April 24, 2017 @ 11:16 AM

  2. Its not just the SPECT scan… you also go through *hours* of testing, (while not on any ADD/ADHD medication… its almost torturous) and the results of the administered test are not to be as trusted as the scan itself, I feel like the results of the administered test were a matter of interpretation.
    IF you love someone… don’t go for the full on 4 hours of testing. Seriously. Take the shorter one.

    Comment by Allison Harju — April 24, 2017 @ 11:58 AM

  3. What is the SPECT scan vs a QEEG test? Diagnostically, do they compare?

    Comment by Momseeking — April 24, 2017 @ 3:15 PM

  4. I completed the 3 day testing process last month. If you are serious about getting answers and help, the “almost tourturous” process is a day in the park compared to the daily suffering one deals with.

    Comment by Jim Hickman — April 27, 2017 @ 5:28 AM

  5. Although they are both objective measures of brain activity, the SPECT scan gives a more thorough picture of brain function. The QEEG measures electrical patterns reflecting cortical activity while SPECT measures blood flow/activity of the entire brain (including internal structures).

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 27, 2017 @ 10:30 AM

  6. Ummm…
    Congrats on having the mental discipline & fortitude to complete the 3 day testing process.
    Don’t think you are the only one that faces struggles every day.
    Your quotes seem a bit condescending and lacking in compassion.

    If u truly struggled as others do, I would think that there would be less mocking.
    Congrats on all your success. Wish you the best.

    Comment by Allison Harju — April 27, 2017 @ 10:48 AM

  7. The SPECT test is a COMPLETE waste of money when trying to distinguish between whether you have OCD or ADHD. Just take Tyrosine supplements. Tyrosine is the precursor to Dopamine, which is too low in people with ADHD, while being in excess in people with OCD. If your symptoms flare up, then voila, you have OCD. No need to spend thousands on something rather unnecessary.

    Comment by Nolan — April 28, 2017 @ 12:06 PM

  8. Allison Harju’s response was deleted (For some strange reason). It should be shared, so here it is:

    “Its not just the SPECT scan… you also go through *hours* of testing, (while not on any ADD/ADHD medication… its almost torturous) and the results of the administered test are not to be as trusted as the scan itself, I feel like the results of the administered test were a matter of interpretation.”

    I hope that the response wasn’t deleted based on the fact that the actual SPECT scan is not as comprehensive nor as cost-worthy as it claims to be.

    Comment by Nolan — April 28, 2017 @ 12:11 PM

  9. We did not delete the comment. And in fact, her comment talks about how much the scan is to be trusted, so we appreciated her comment!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 28, 2017 @ 1:56 PM

  10. I have reversed my thyroid, liver, gut, ADHD and other heinous immune system issues. As a result I want to know what I can see with a scan. I am not a Functional Medicine doctor, but I have listened and read from their libraries of info for a solid year. Dr Amen’s work is pivotal. Much like UV light on brain function is pivotal. Before I go try some “pivotal” techniques I believe it’s time for me to see what I’m starting with. A scan is on my list.

    Comment by Robert Rolapp — July 20, 2017 @ 8:29 AM

  11. My psychiatrist threatened to drop me if I went to Dr. Amen for a second opinion. He is no longer my Dr and I am being treated for the correct illness. I can’t tell you the pain, agony and money I wasted being misdiagnosed for 7 years.

    If my previous Dr had done the intake the Amen Clinics does he might have made a correct diagnosis. Sadly, most do not perform this rigorous of an intake. Even if he made the correct diagnosis, he would have no confirmation that he was correct and would have to prescribe not knowing what was actually “broken”. SPECT shows how your brain functions. The correct drugs can then be prescribed to target the specific areas of your brain that need it.
    SPECT scans are a wonderful tool.

    The Amen Clinic changed my life and is an invaluable resource for a better life. If you suffer with any mental health issues I would highly recommend the Amen Clinics.

    Comment by Jeff F — August 28, 2017 @ 2:56 PM

  12. Yes, everyone with debilitating mental health should go pick a money tree and pony up $5000 for a SPECT scan. Evidently, correcting mental health issues is a luxury. Let’s be honest, who has that kind of money? Especially people suffering from mental health issues? I’ve never met a well-off person who didn’t have their ADD/ADHD symptoms under control. Dr. Amen is aware of this, and yet he’s just another guy in the business of making money. The SPECT scan price could easily be cut by 50%+ if he wanted. SMH.

    Comment by Nolan — September 1, 2017 @ 7:55 AM

  13. I agree with this article completely. My entire family of four (two parents, two children) had the brain scans done at the Washington DC Amen clinic in the spring of 2016. My husband and daughter’s scans and assessments showed a clear case of ADD. My son, although presenting with many of the same symptoms, had a different brain chemistry. His stress test (brain scan under stress) did not show a shut-down of executive functioning under stress. Instead, his executive functioning remained the same or even improved a little under stress. Although he left the clinic with a preliminary diagnosis of ADHD, based on his symptoms and the “ring of fire” pattern of brain activity, I was always somewhat skeptical of that diagnosis based on the brain scan. Because of the brain scan, we did not seek medication for my son based on the ADHD preliminary diagnosis, for fear that it might make him worse, even though my husband and daughter were greatly benefitting from medication for ADD. A year and a half later, my son experienced an acute onset of OCD. His symptoms were undeniably OCD due to rituals that he felt compelled to perform constantly. With a new and clarified diagnosis, medication, and exposure and response therapy, he is now doing very well. Since that time, I have traced other family members on my side of the family with OCD, so my son apparently inherited that brain chemistry from my side of the family (and not my husband). Without the brain scans, the mystery of our anxiety disorders would have been much more difficult to unravel. Although it was expensive to have all four of us scanned and assessed, it is some of the best money I have ever spent. Thank you, Dr. Amen!

    Comment by Shann Jeffery — January 12, 2018 @ 6:04 PM

  14. Are there any clinics in Ontario, Canada or any doctors in Canada performing SPECT imaging? Why is the cost so high? Would love to have the scan done for my son, but fear the cost is too much especially if I also need to travel to a clinic in the US. Where is the closest clinic to Toronto?

    Comment by Elise — March 10, 2018 @ 5:13 AM

  15. My comment is the same as the reply- Amen Clinics are too expensive. These spec scans and the testing is very hard to comeby for the minimal budget type client.

    Comment by Very true - the expense that the Amen Clinic charges is outrageous. Dr. Amen knows this and doesn't do anything about it. I agree, he must deal with very wealthy ADHD clients. — March 12, 2018 @ 12:53 PM

  16. I still feel like Jim Hickman’s comment was a little on the rude side. It was me who deleted my comments before. Its bad enough admitting to this in a semi public forum. Jim just feels like an insensitive self righteous Troll.

    Comment by Allison Harju — April 13, 2018 @ 2:09 PM

  17. Nope, I deleted it. Jim’s comments felt a bit Troll-ish.

    Comment by Allison Harju — April 13, 2018 @ 2:10 PM

  18. Please share your experience of what it was like to go through the 3 day testing and what you learned from it.

    Comment by Please share — July 22, 2018 @ 3:01 PM

  19. My grandson was diagnosed with adhd about three years ago he is now eight. He has been having cognitive therapy at school, along with physical and occupational therapy. He has been on adder all for a couple of years and recently had to be switched to Ritalin with the dr stating as the child grows doses need to be increased and was almost at the highest adderal dose when the med was switched to Ritalin his behaviors got much worse so they of courses increased the dose to 36.5 mg of an extended released form. Also he takes a daily dose of folic acid. He is acing more problems at school aggressive in nature and not wanting to do his work. Academically he is very smart now they are saying he is autistic I am an rn as well as my daughter who is a psych nurse. I have been trying for the last two years to get his pediatrician and neurologist to order a spect scan they tell us it is of no diagnostic value. I am so frustrated with his Drs and don’t know what to do I would love to bring him to one of dr. Amens clinics. We live in Massachusetts. Boston has the best healthcare but you can’t get in for years as they are so busy. He has insurance and Medicaid as a secondary his father had ocd and relatives who have adhd does the clinic accept health insurance or is it all private pay. My daughter has two other kids and can’t afford to pay out of pocket. Please help with some advise on how to proceed as I need to help my grandson. Thanks, Karen

    Comment by Karen gajewski — October 1, 2018 @ 1:31 PM

  20. Hello Karen, thank you for reaching out to us. We’d be happy to have a Care Coordinator reach out to you to discuss further and review options we offer at Amen Clinics, including a SPECT scan, as well as how to best serve you in Massachusetts.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 1, 2018 @ 1:58 PM

  21. I’m wondering if your son’s ocd showed up on the scan? I’m not sure what I think about you discovering the ocd independently of the scan if that’s what it’s for? considering this for myself. thanks.

    Comment by Saige — September 12, 2019 @ 9:53 PM

  22. Robert,

    How were you able to reverse thyroid, liver, gut ADHD and other immune system issues. I’m curious, since they could advise me on my own issues. Thank you.

    Comment by HEIDI STONE — July 14, 2020 @ 7:25 AM

  23. I think it is highly unethical when medical care is only available to those who can pay, while those who cannot must suffer. Health care should be free and a human right, not a way to make money. Health care should not be a business.

    Comment by Irene — April 30, 2022 @ 12:56 PM

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