More kids being diagnosed with ADHD

ADHDThe number of U.S. children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rose by 2 million from 2003 to 2012. And during that same period, 1 million more children began taking medication for the disorder, according to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

It’s not clear, however, whether ADHD is becoming more prevalent among kids or doctors are better able to diagnose it—or a combination of the two, the authors wrote.

ADHD is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children with ADHD can have a hard time paying attention and focusing. They may act impulsively, without considering the results of their actions. In some cases they may be overly active (hyperactive). The disorder often follows children into adulthood.

ADHD usually is treated with a mix of medications and behavioral therapy.

About the study

National health surveys have been collecting information about the number of kids diagnosed with ADHD since 1996, according to the study.

This study was based on information gathered from more than 95,000 telephone surveys for the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Health.

Parents of children ages 0 to 17 years of age were asked a variety of questions, including if they had a child diagnosed with ADHD, when the diagnosis was made, how severe the child’s symptoms were, and whether he or she was in treatment.

After analyzing the responses, the researchers came up with the following numbers:

  • 11 percent (6.4 million). The number of American children ages 4 through 17 who have been diagnosed with ADHD at some time (“ever diagnosed”). In 2003, it was 7.8 percent.
  • 15.1 percent. The percentage of boys ever diagnosed with ADHD; for girls, it was 6.7 percent. In 2003, those numbers were 11 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.
  • 6.1 percent (3.5 million). The number of children taking medicine for ADHD. That was an increase of 27 percent over numbers from 2007. (2003 numbers were not available).
  • 6.4 percent. The number of high school students taking ADHD medications. This is significant, according to the authors, because of concerns that kids in this age group may misuse or abuse ADHD medicines or share them with others.

Although the number of children and teens taking medication has increased over the years, the study found that nearly 1 in 5 of those with ADHD was not receiving either medication or mental health counseling. Researchers said a better understanding of the prevalence of ADHD and its effects allows experts to develop strategies for getting people with the condition the help they need.

The take-home message
The first step for parents who suspect ADHD in a child is to get an accurate diagnosis, according to CDC. Although there is no single test for the disorder, the American Psychiatric Association has recently updated its diagnostic guidelines.You can find an ADHD assessment tool based on current guidelines here.

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