Doctors are warning that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is being diagnosed far too often, resulting in some children taking powerful and risky drugs they don't need.
Researchers writing in the British Medical Journal said cases of ADHD have risen dramatically in the last few years, Agence France-Presse reported. At the same time, doctors still aren't clear on the root of the disorder and think that many children may be inaccurately labeled.
ADHD is a rather broad disorder defined by periods of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsive behaviors — in other words, behaviors that are often typical in the youth.
But the diagnosis is only to be made when these behaviors go beyond the normal, and it's often a judgment call to determine what's normal.
Meanwhile, the drugs that are used to treat the condition are powerful and carry significant — and sometimes unknown — side effects and risks.
The study was conducted by Rae Thomas at the Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice at Australia's Bond University. Researchers didn't argue that the condition existed, but rather concluded with a plan for doctors to conduct "watchful waiting" for 10 weeks before prescribing medicines, AFP reported.
In the United States, about one in every 11 children between the ages of 13 and 18 are diagnosed with ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. One in 25 adults in the U.S. are treated for it, AFP reported.
Ritalin and the other drugs used to treat ADHD are only supposed to be prescribed in "severe" cases — roughly 14 percent of the time, AFP reported. But "about 87 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. in 2010 subsequently received medication," a large number who have many have received "unnecessary and possibly harmful medication treatment."
Between 2000 and 2011, prescriptions for Ritalin and other ADHD drugs in Australia rose by 72 percent. In Britain and the Netherlands, prescriptions for the drugs doubled between 2003 and 2008, AFP reported.
Some of the side effects of the drugs are weight gain or loss, liver damage and thoughts of suicide. Still unknown are the drugs' long-term effects.
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