According to a new study, the number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has increased by 66 percent over the past 10 years.
Researchers analyzed changes in the diagnosis of youth ADHD and treatment of the disorder from 2000 to 2010. Only youth under the age of 18, and cared for by office-based physicians, were included in the evaluation.
Northwestern University researchers also discovered that specialists, instead of primary care physicians, have begun treating an increasing number of these young patients.
Psychostimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) remain the most common medication prescribed to children with ADHD. Psychostimulants were used in 96 percent of treatments in 2000 and 87 percent in 2010.
“ADHD is now a common diagnosis among children and teens,” said lead author Craig Garfield, M.D. “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.”
Symptoms of ADHD, such as trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviors and being overly active, can affect children and teens both academically and socially, Garfield said.
In the past decade several important regulatory and clinical changes regarding ADHD and the medications used to treat it have occurred, yet it was unknown how these factors have affected ADHD management, Garfield said.
For the study, Garfield and his team of researchers quantified ADHD diagnosis and treatment patterns among people under 18 using the IMS Health National Disease and Therapeutic Index. This is a nationally representative sample of office-based visits and included 4,300 office-based physicians in 2010.
According to the study, in 2010, 10.4 million children and teens under age 18 were diagnosed with ADHD at physician outpatient visits, versus 6.2 million in 2000.
Investigators were unable to explain the reduction in use of psychostimulants during the decade studied although they did note that there was not an increase in treatment with other, substitute medications.
Although the majority of children and teens with ADHD are still managed by primary physicians, researchers determined a significant shift away from primary doctors and toward specialists, such as pediatric psychiatrists.
“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.”
Given the short supply of psychiatrists specializing in pediatric ADHD, Garfield said this trend might make it difficult for many children to receive medical treatment for ADHD in the future.
The study will be published in the March/April issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.
Source: Northwestern University