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20-03-2012 | Psychology | Article

Dramatic increase in ADHD diagnoses in USA over last decade


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MedWire News: Research shows that the number of children diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the USA has increased significantly over the last 10 years.

"ADHD is now a common diagnosis among children and teens," said lead author Craig Garfield (Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA) in a press statement.

"The magnitude and speed of this shift in one decade is likely due to an increased awareness of ADHD, which may have caused more physicians to recognize symptoms and diagnose the disorder," he said.

The researchers used the IMS Health National Disease and Therapeutic Index to assess trends in ADHD diagnosis and associated factors between 2000 and 2010 in children and adolescents younger than 18 years of age.

They found that over this period the number of ADHD diagnoses increased by 66%, from 6.2 to 10.4 million children.

In terms of treatment types, psychostimulants have remained the most commonly prescribed treatment. In total, they accounted for 96% of prescriptions in 2000 and 87% of prescriptions in 2010.

Atomoxetine use decreased from 15% of prescriptions in 2003 to 6% in 2010, whereas use of clonidine, guanfacine, and buproprion, remained constant during the study period (between 5% and 9% of prescriptions).

The number of diagnoses in male patients and the treatment severity did not change significantly between 2000 and 2010.

There was a noticeable shift away from diagnosis by pediatricians towards psychiatrists, with ADHD diagnosis by psychiatrists increasing from 24% in 2000 to 36% in 2010.

"Recently, there's been more public health advisories issued about problems or side effects of different ADHD medications," Garfield said.

"It may be that general pediatricians are shying away from treating patients themselves and instead rely on their specialist colleagues to provide the treatment and management of these medications," he added.

Writing in Academic Pediatrics, Caleb Alexander (The University of Chicago, Maryland, Illinois, USA) and colleagues say that "the magnitude and speed of these shifts is more likely to be due to changes in practice patterns than a change in the population prevalence of ADHD.

"Further work is needed to better characterize the precise role that various influences may have played and most importantly, to identify the effects of these changes on the health of children and their families."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert

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