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J Child Neurol. 2005 Dec;20(12):994-1002.

What is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Author information

1
Department of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA. lmfurman@adelphia.net

Abstract

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is described as the most common neurobehavioral condition of childhood. We raise the concern that ADHD is not a disease per se but rather a group of symptoms representing a final common behavioral pathway for a gamut of emotional, psychological, and/or learning problems. Increasing numbers of children, especially boys, are diagnosed with ADHD and treated with stimulant medications according to a simplified approach. Methodical review of the literature, however, raised concerning issues. "Core" ADHD symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity are not unique to ADHD. Rates of "comorbid" psychiatric and learning problems, including depression and anxiety, range from 12 to 60%, with significant symptom overlap with ADHD, difficulties in diagnosis, and evidence-based treatment methods that do not include stimulant medications. No neuropsychologic test result is pathognomic for ADHD, and structural and functional neuroimaging studies have not identified a unique etiology for ADHD. No genetic marker has been consistently identified, and heritability studies are confounded by familial environmental factors. The validity of the Conners' Rating Scale-Revised has been seriously questioned, and parent and teacher "ratings" of school children are frequently discrepant, suggesting that use of subjective informant data via scale or interview does not form an objective basis for diagnosis of ADHD. Empiric diagnostic trials of stimulant medication that produce a behavioral response have been shown not to distinguish between children with and without "ADHD." In summary, the working dogma that ADHD is a disease or neurobehavioral condition does not at this time hold up to scrutiny of evidence. Thorough evaluation of symptomatic children should be individualized, and include assessment of educational, psychologic, psychiatric, and family needs.

PMID:
16417850
DOI:
10.1177/08830738050200121301
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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