• Challenges of Adult ADHD

    Long-considered a childhood problem, the condition increasingly is being diagnosed in adults. If untreated, it can lead to trouble with jobs and relationships.

    By Christine S. Moyer, amednews staff. Posted Aug. 27, 2012.

    Many patients of psychiatrist John Sharp, MD, don’t realize that their inattentive and impulsive behaviors could be caused by attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder until their children are diagnosed with the condition.

    “Parents look at these symptoms [and realize] they are causing problems in their own lives,” said Dr. Sharp, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School who treats patients in Boston and Los Angeles.

    When those parents come to see him, they often say, “I think I have ADHD.”

    Many times, they’re correct.

    Although ADHD long has been considered a childhood developmental problem that wanes with age, physicians are noticing that more adults are inquiring about and being diagnosed with the illness.

    Why so many cases?

    Likely driving the uptick is greater awareness among doctors and the public about symptoms of the disorder and the importance of treating those symptoms, health professionals say. Also contributing to the rise is research showing that many children don’t outgrow the condition. That means if an ADHD diagnosis is missed in childhood, the individual might need treatment when he or she gets older.

    Up to 60% of children with ADHD continue to show significant symptoms into adulthood, according to a 2005 Archives of Disease in Childhood report.

    “Children might grow out of some of their physical hyperactivity [as they age]. But what’s going on in their heads, they don’t [often] grow out of that,” said North Carolina family physician Michael L. Coates, MD.

    Health professionals estimate that 4.4% of adults have the illness, making it the second-most common mental health condition in adults after depressive disorders.

    It’s unclear, however, how widespread ADHD is in U.S. adults, partly because of the difficulty in diagnosing it, physicians say. A key challenge is proving that some symptoms were present in the patient before age 7.

    Complicating matters is that internists receive minimal training in identifying and treating the disorder, because it develops in childhood and tends to be considered a pediatric problem, said internist and pediatrician Steven M. Scofield, MD.

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