Rise in diagnosed ADHD

  • Date: 19 July 2023

DIAGNOSES of ADHD increased 20-fold between 2000 and 2018, according to research funded by the NIHR (National Institute of Health and Care Research).

Researchers from University College London (UCL) reviewed seven million individuals aged three to 99 between 2000 and 2018, using data from the IQVIA Medical Research Data, a UK primary care database.

They found that 35,877 had an ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) diagnosis and 18,518 received prescriptions for ADHD medication. There was a 20-fold increase in ADHD diagnoses and a 50-fold increase in ADHD prescriptions in men aged 18-29 (from 0.01 per cent to 0.56 per cent).

ADHD was more commonly diagnosed in children, boys and men. In boys aged 10-16, 1.4 per cent had an ADHD diagnosis and 0.6 per cent had been prescribed ADHD medication in 2000, which rose to 3.5 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively in 2018.

Diagnoses were about two times higher in the most deprived areas.

ADHD symptoms start in childhood but are increasingly recognised to persist in adults and include impulsiveness, disorganisation, poor time management skills, difficulty focusing and restlessness.

Lead author, Dr Doug McKechnie of UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said: “ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions for ADHD medication by a GP have become more common over time.

“Whilst ADHD is most likely to be diagnosed in childhood, an increasing number of people are diagnosed for the first time in adulthood. We do not know exactly why this is happening, but it may be that ADHD has become better recognised and diagnosed.”

The researchers point out that, with the focus on primary care, the study under-estimates the overall incidence and prevalence of ADHD medication usage. The time frame also does not take account of the substantial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic upon mental health services and it is likely that the incidence and prevalence of ADHD in the UK has continued to change.

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