Too many kids caught in ADHD diagnosis net

Kate Kelland

A WIDER definition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is causing inappropriate diagnosis and unnecessary and possibly harmful medical treatment costing up to $500-million (R5.1-billion) in the United States alone, scientists said yesterday.

Less restrictive diagnostic criteria have contributed to a steep rise in diagnoses for the behavioural brain condition – particularly among children – and in the use of stimulant drugs to manage it. The broader definition also “devalues the diagnosis in those with serious problems”, Australia’s Bond University senior researcher Rae Thomas said. Thomas, who led an analysis of the problem, has published it in the British Medical Journal.

“The broadening of the diagnostic criteria is likely to increase what is already a significant concern about over-diagnosis. It risks resulting in a diagnosis of ADHD being regarded with scepticism, to the harm of those with severe problems,” he said.

People with ADHD are excessively restless, impulsive and easily distracted, and children with the condition often have trouble in school.

According to the Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Support Group of Southern Africa (Adhasa), between 8% to 10% of the South African population have ADD or ADHD. There is no cure, but the symptoms can be kept in check by medications such as Ritalin or a newer drug called Vyvanse.

Experts not directly involved in the analysis said its conclusions were interesting but should be viewed with caution. They said the increase in prescriptions of medications for ADHD was probably due to better detection of the condition.

In Australia, data revealed a 73% rise in ADHD medication between 2000 and 2011, the researchers found, while prescriptions in Britain increased two-fold for children and adolescents and four-fold in adults between 2003 and 2008. – Reuters

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