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ADHD's Wider Definition Could Lead to Unnecessary Treatments

Update Date: Nov 06, 2013 04:27 PM EST

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by the inability to focus and a lack of control over behaviors often leading to an overactive state. ADHD is often diagnosed in children, who are usually prescribed stimulant drugs to control their behaviors. Even though these drugs might help some children, researchers have found that the risk of drug abuse can be extremely high in some cases. Now, with the broader definition of ADHD, experts in a new report expressed their concerns that more and more children will be diagnosed and subsequently prescribed medical treatments that might not be necessary. 

"The broadening of the diagnostic criteria is likely to increase what is already a significant concern about overdiagnosis," Rae Thomas, a senior researcher at Australia's Bond University and lead researcher of the report, said according to Reuters Health. "It risks resulting in a diagnosis of ADHD being regarded with skepticism, to the harm of those with severe problems who unquestionably need sensitive, skilled specialist help and support."

In this report, the researchers estimated that the new and wider definition of ADHD would lead to more inappropriate diagnoses with prescribed treatments that might not be needed. The team stated that these medical treatments could even harm children and would cost the United States $500 million. The researches believe that a wider definition "devalues the diagnosis in those with serious problems."

The researchers found that in Australia from 2000 to 2011, there was a 73 percent increase in ADHD medications. In Britain, these medications also increased two times for children patients and four times for adult patients between 2003 and 2008. The prescription rates for methylphenidates and amphetamines, which are two types of drugs often prescribed to treat ADHD, also increased in the U.S. from 1996 to 2008. The researchers reasoned that throughout the years, the definition of ADHD continued to be broadened in every new DSM edition. With a wider definition, there will inevitably be more diagnoses and more prescriptions.

Despite the researchers' concerns, experts who were not involved with the report stated that the analyses should be viewed with caution. A wider definition of ADHD could help diagnose cases that are left untreated. In this situation, the definition would help the patient.

"In many regions, underdiagnosis and under-treatment of ADHD are also a significant concern," commented Ilina Singh, an ADHD expert from King's College London.

The report was published in British Medical Journal.

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