Are more cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder being diagnosed?

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Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
ADHD diagnoses are rising like dough (100% whole-grain, of course) on a sunny windowsill. Diagnoses of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) rose 3% a year from 1997 to 2006. Now, they are rising even faster. Nearly 1 in 10 kids (9.5%) aged 4 to 17 has been given an ADHD diagnosis at some point in their childhood. Recent studies have found that rates in older teens are rising even faster than rates in young kids. No one is sure if the higher rates are due to more children with attention or hyperactivity problems, or simply an increasing awareness of the condition by doctors, teachers, and parents. Of course, it could be both.
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are on the rise. The National Resource Center on ADHD reports that ADHD diagnoses increased 3% each year from 1997 until 2006. By 2007, about 7% of children in the United States were diagnosed with ADHD. In 2003, half of the children with ADHD were taking medications regularly for the condition.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts question whether this increase in diagnoses is due to more children showing signs of ADHD clinicians diagnosing the condition in increasing numbers. Whatever the reason, the numbers of children receiving ADHD treatment are increasing, and treatments are now being given for longer periods.
Susanna  Visser, MS, DrPH
Public Health & General Preventive Medicine
Recent data from surveys of parents indicate that rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 and an average of 5% per year from 2003 to 2011. Currently, more than 1 in 10 (11%) of children in the U.S. were reported to have an ADHD diagnosis. Read more about rates of ADHD here: www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html  

The presence of the CDC logo and CDC content on this page should not be construed to imply endorsement by the US Government of any commercial products or services, or to replace the advice of a medical professional. The mark “CDC” is licensed under authority of the PHS.

Yes, more cases are being diagnosed, a brand new study found that almost 10% of school kids are being diagnosed with ADHD. The speed with which the rate increased in only a few years suggests that the diagnosis is not very reliable. In my own practice I see many clients who come to me with unreliable diagnoses.

While Adult ADD is still not in the diagnostic bible of the field (DSM-IV), over 4 million adults have this diagnosis.  Based on my observations, adults are increasingly being diagnosed for the following reasons:

  1. Parents of ADD children recognize similar symptoms in themselves.
  2. Effective medications that are universal performance enhancers cause adults to seek a diagnosis to obtain desirable medications.
  3. Global and technological innovations create ever-present distractions that make it difficult for adults to stay focused, leading to a misdiagnosis of ADHD.
  4. High level stress creates many of the same symptoms of ADHD including difficulty concentrating, difficulty following through, and distractibility. Increase in stress levels due to many factors increases the misdiagnosis of ADHD.

For children, ADHD is often misdiagnosed for the following reasons:

  1. The major contributor to bad behavior and attention deficits in children is not getting enough sleep.  A 3-6 year old should get 10-12 hours a night and a 7-12 year old should get 10-11 hours a night. If your child is not getting the minimal amount of sleep you will want to change his sleep habits before even considering a diagnosis of ADHD.
  2. Before thinking your child has a brain disorder you might also consider that your child is stressed out. A child who is stressed will also show rowdy behavior and have difficulty in school. Common stressors include parental conflict, divorce, financial or health problems in the family or any major changes. You can predict a child will act out and have difficulty focusing if he is sad, angry, or afraid and doesn’t have a chance to express and release those emotions.
  3. Poor Nutrition
  4. Skill Deficits or an undiagnosed learning disorder

If you are concerned about the accuracy of a diagnosis, I recommend that the child or the family receive 12 sessions of standard therapy BEFORE an evaluation. The reason for this, is that if there are stressors and conflicts in the family, you have a chance to solve these problems and build your child’s emotional intelligence which will reduce disruptive behavior and attention deficits.

The percentage of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has increased by approximately 3 percent each year. The reason or reasons for the increase are not well understood.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.