NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More children are being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) now than were a decade ago, according to new research from a large California health plan.
It's not clear what's behind that trend, researchers noted. Possible explanations include better awareness of the condition among parents and doctors or improved access to health care for kids with symptoms, according to Dr. Darios Getahun, the study's lead author.
Prior research has also shown an increasing trend in ADHD diagnoses, according to Getahun, from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Group in Pasadena.
However, his team had strict criteria for determining which kids had ADHD, requiring a clinical diagnosis and prescriptions for ADHD medications. Past studies have relied on parent and teacher reports alone, Getahun noted.
In an analysis of Kaiser Permanente medical records, researchers found the proportion of five- to 11-year-olds diagnosed with ADHD increased from 2.5 percent in 2001 to 3.1 percent in 2010.
Consistent with past research, white children were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than black, Hispanic and Asian kids, and boys were more likely to have the condition than girls.
On average, children were diagnosed when they were between eight and a half and nine and a half years old. Hispanic youth tended to receive a diagnosis at a later age than other kids - which could put them at a disadvantage, Getahun noted.
"One thing which is very important in ADHD is parents' awareness... and timely diagnosis of the disease is very important so the treatment is effective," he told Reuters Health.
"If you diagnose the child early when the disease occurs, the child may function better in school and also socially," said Getahun.
One study published last year found Icelandic kids who got early ADHD treatment did better on standardized tests than those who didn't get medication until they were preteens (see Reuters Health story of June 25, 2012: http://reut.rs/KXoQfY).
Common medications used to treat ADHD include stimulants such as Vyvanse, Ritalin and Concerta.
Not all kids with ADHD need medication - some get better with behavioral therapy or extra help at school. ADHD drugs can come with side effects, including appetite loss, sleep problems and stomach aches.
Just under five percent of more than 840,000 kids were diagnosed with ADHD during the entire study period, the researchers wrote Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Parental reports suggest that closer to one in ten kids and teens has been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and rates vary by state - from 5.6 percent of kids in Nevada to 15.6 percent of North Carolina youth.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/PogxGc JAMA Pediatrics, online January 21, 2013.
Arthur H. Belmont, LMFT
has over 18 years of experience working with children, teens and adults who are struggling with relational, emotional or behavioral issues.