According to recent research, prescription drug rates for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have risen 50% in five years. Experts warn that broader definitions of this disorder could increase the risk of prescribing unnecessary treatments.
The condition in question includes symptoms such as short attention spans and restlessness and is thought to affect somewhere between two and five per cent of school-aged children.
A recent study carried out by researchers at Bond University in Australia highlights the expanding clinical definition of ADHD in recent years and urges doctors to be more conservative when diagnosing the condition. In order to be diagnosed with ADHD the patient must meet diagnostic criteria, which is outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Disease guidelines.
The authors of the study acknowledge that the rise in diagnosis can be attributed to the fact that doctors are now better at recognising symptoms, however they also point out that the DSM’s definition of ADHD has been broadened in recent editions and guidelines within the UK, US and Australia offer no distinction between mild and severe ADHD.
“The broadening of diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 [the most recent edition] is likely to increase what is already a significant concern about overdiagnosis. It risks resulting in a diagnosis of ADHD being regarded with scepticism, to the harm of those with severe problems who unquestionably need sensitive, skilled specialist help and support.” The authors conclude.
They recommended that other countries adopt a more conservative approach, which has been outlined by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).