Understanding the ADHD Diagnosis
It seems like most everyone knows of a child that has been diagnosed with ADHD. In the United States, 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 – about 6.4 million – are being treated for this disorder. Since these numbers are rising, it’s especially important to understand what ADHD is, and what it is not. By doing this, it can be determined if what is being called ADHD is actually a different disorder altogether. This will lead to the reduction of diagnoses, which have been rising rapidly in recent years.
This graphic looks at the definition of ADHD, the reasons for overdiagnosis and a new test that can help pinpoint if the diagnosis is accurate.
What is ADHD?
The traits that define ADHD are hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. The trouble is, these traits can be found in all children to some degree, so there’s a risk of overdiagnosis. When you consider that diagnosis of ADHD has increased 5 percent per year from 2003 to 2011, it’s clear that perhaps some children are being wrongly diagnosed, especially typically overactive toddlers. In fact, about 10,000 children ages 2 to 3 are being medicated for ADHD, against pediatric guidelines.
All this has led to ADHD being the most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder among children.
What’s the Reason for Overdiagnosis?
What’s behind this increase in ADHD diagnoses? There are a number of factors at play here, including a decreased tolerance for children’s noisy behavior, pressure by drug companies to sell their products, pressure for a child to receive benefits and a lowered threshold for diagnosis among physicians, which has prompted this epidemic. All this adds up to an estimated 14 – 38 percent overdiagnosis of ADHD cases.
What Can Be Done About Overdiagnosis?
There may be a solution to the overdiagnosis of ADHD, and that lies in biomarkers. Biomarker findings have shown that individuals with ADHD share several frontal-lobe abnormalities, including differences in activation, decreased frontal-lobe volume and reduced metabolic activity. Also seen is a reduced blood flow and changes in electrical activity. Children with ADHD traits, but do not have ADHD, are less likely to have these frontal-lobe abnormalities. Therefore, biomarkers can be used to reduce overdiagnosis of ADHD.
A validated biomarker test can help a physician or psychiatrist determine if a child has ADHD or a different issue altogether. It can help take the guesswork out of what can be a tricky and overprescribed diagnosis.
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