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Study Charts Dramatic Growth in ADHD Diagnoses Over Last 10 Years

The number children being diagnosed with ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—is on the rise, a new study from Northwestern University has found.

In 10 years, the number of ADHD diagnoses has risen 66 percent, researchers found, and over this time, more specialists, instead of primary-care physicians, have begun treating an increasing number of these young patients, researchers found.

The study, published in the March/April issue of Academic Pediatrics, analyzed ADHD trends from 2000 to 2010 among children younger than 18 diagnosed and treated by office-based physicians. Researchers analyzed changes in the diagnosis of ADHD and treatment of the disorder.

"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," said Dr. Craig Garfield, one of the study's authors, in a statement.

The study found that in 2010, 10.4 million children and teens were diagnosed with ADHD during doctor visits, compared with 6.2 million in 2000. (A report last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about one in 10 kids is diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD can lead to problems in school, such as trouble with reading.)

Researchers found that psychostimulants have been the most common medication prescribed to children with ADHD—they were used in 96 percent of treatments in 2000 and 87 percent in 2010.

Most children and teens with ADHD are treated by their primary physicians, but the study found that there has been a shift to specialists, such as pediatric psychiatrists.

"Recently, there's been more public health advisories issued about problems or side effects of different ADHD medications," Dr. 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."

But a short supply of psychiatrists specializing in pediatric ADHD could make it difficult for many children to receive medical treatment for ADHD in the future, he said.

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