Clinical Review Evidence based paediatrics

Evidence based management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7323.1232 (Published 24 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1232
  1. James P Guevara, assistant professor of paediatricsa,
  2. Martin T Stein, professor of paediatricsb
  1. a Division of General Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
  2. b Division of Primary Care and Adolescent Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
  1. Correspondence to: V A Moyer Virginia.A.Moyer{at}uth.tmc.edu

    THE CASE

    Your first patient of the morning is brought in by his parents for evaluation of school problems. He has always been described as “on the go.” When he was 4 years old, a preschool teacher expressed concern that his activity level at times limited play with other children. Now, in the middle of second grade, he is underachieving and not keeping up with either reading or mathematics. His teacher reports that he fidgets constantly and cannot keep his hands off other children. Friendships are limited and not sustained. His teacher suggested that his paediatrician should be asked whether he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

    Summary points

    Some 7% of children of school age have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and boys are affected three times as often as girls

    Between 18% and 35% of affected children have an additional psychiatric disorder

    ADHD-specific ratings scales are useful in the diagnostic evaluation

    Stimulants, and perhaps tricyclic antidepressants, are effective treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children

    Symptoms diminish over time, but in up to half of affected children the disorder is still present in adolescence or young adulthood

    Background

    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is among the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children.1 Its hallmarks are hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention beyond the norm for a child's age (box).2

    The disorder is frequently diagnosed in children with behavioural problems or in those who underachieve at school.3 Although the diagnosis is reliable if made by a standardised approach, concerns about the validity of the disorder often arise.4 At present there is no biological marker that clearly identifies affected children. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the disorder is unique or merely one end of the continuum of age appropriate behaviour. 5 6

    You wonder how frequently academic difficulties or disruptive behaviours in a child …

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