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Attention deficit study finds no evidence of overdiagnosis

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1998 - Summer


The number of children being diagnosed and treated for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has risen sharply in recent years, and parents and child-health advocates have raised concerns about possible overdiagnosis of the disorder. The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association reviewed studies in the field over more than the last two decades and concluded that those worries are unfounded. The council's chair-elect, Myron Genel, M.D., professor of pediatrics and associate dean of government and community affairs at the School of Medicine, says, “The preponderance of evidence is that ADHD is not diagnosed lightly. ADHD is one of the best studied and characterized disorders.”

For the council's report, which appeared in the April 8 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), studies published from 1975 through March 1997 were reviewed and analyzed. The council found little evidence of widespread overdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of ADHD, or of widespread over-prescription of Ritalin, the most commonly prescribed drug for treatment of ADHD.

The council concluded: “Epidemiologic studies using standardized diagnostic criteria suggest that 3 percent to 6 percent of the school-aged population may have ADHD. The percentage of U.S. youth being treated for ADHD is at most at the lower end of this prevalence range.”