Adult ADHD Often Missed

Survey: Primary-care doctors uncomfortable making diagnosis

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WEDNESDAY, July 9, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Primary-care doctors often fail to diagnose attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults because of their inexperience and lack of training and resources.

A survey by researchers from the New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine also found that primary-care doctors would take a more active role in treating adult ADHD if those issues were addressed. It's estimated about 8 million American adults have ADHD, which can result in increased health-care costs, higher divorce rates, unemployment, and motor vehicle accidents.

But most of these people remain undiagnosed. Only about a quarter of them seek medical help for the condition.

The survey of 400 primary-care doctors found that 48 percent of them did not feel confident in diagnosing ADHD in adults, while 34 percent reported being "very knowledgeable" or "extremely knowledgeable" about ADHD.

That compares with 92 percent who said they were very or extremely knowledgeable about depression and 83 percent who said the same about generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

The survey revealed that 64 percent of the doctors indicated they received "not at all thorough" or "not very thorough" instruction in diagnosing and treating adult ADHD, compared with 13 percent who said the same for their training in depression.

Other findings include:

  • Sixty-five percent of the primary-care doctors defer to a specialist when diagnosing adult ADHD, compared with 2 percent for depression and 3 percent for GAD.
  • Eighty-five percent of the primary-care doctors said they would take a more active role in diagnosing and treating adult ADHD if they had an easy-to-use screening tool.

"The results tell us that we need to do a better job of supporting primary-care physicians who are on the front lines of diagnosing adult ADHD. This disorder causes significant problems for millions of adults and yet their doctors, including internists and general practitioners, often miss it," Dr. Lenard Adler, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and neurology at New York University School of Medicine, says in a news release.

He and other ADHD experts have created a new assessment tool called the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, which may help doctors evaluate symptoms of the disorder.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about ADHD.

SOURCE: New York University news release, June 2003


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