Customize your JAMA Network experience by selecting one or more topics from the list below.
Identify all potential conflicts of interest that might be relevant to your comment.
Conflicts of interest comprise financial interests, activities, and relationships within the past 3 years including but not limited to employment, affiliation, grants or funding, consultancies, honoraria or payment, speaker's bureaus, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, royalties, donation of medical equipment, or patents planned, pending, or issued.
Err on the side of full disclosure.
If you have no conflicts of interest, check "No potential conflicts of interest" in the box below. The information will be posted with your response.
Not all submitted comments are published. Please see our commenting policy for details.
Kazda L, Bell K, Thomas R, McGeechan K, Sims R, Barratt A. Overdiagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Scoping Review. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(4):e215335. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.5335
Is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) overdiagnosed in children and adolescents?
In this systematic scoping review of 334 published studies in children and adolescents, convincing evidence was found that ADHD is overdiagnosed in children and adolescents. For individuals with milder symptoms in particular, the harms associated with an ADHD diagnosis may often outweigh the benefits.
This finding suggests that high-quality studies on the long-term benefits and harms of diagnosing and treating ADHD for youths with milder or borderline symptoms are needed to inform safe and equitable practice and policy.
Reported increases in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnoses are accompanied by growing debate about the underlying factors. Although overdiagnosis is often suggested, no comprehensive evaluation of evidence for or against overdiagnosis has ever been undertaken and is urgently needed to enable evidence-based, patient-centered diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in contemporary health services.
To systematically identify, appraise, and synthesize the evidence on overdiagnosis of ADHD in children and adolescents using a published 5-question framework for detecting overdiagnosis in noncancer conditions.
This systematic scoping review adhered to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) Extension for Scoping Reviews and Joanna Briggs Methodology, including the PRISMA-ScR Checklist. MEDLINE, Embase, PsychINFO, and the Cochrane Library databases were searched for studies published in English between January 1, 1979, and August 21, 2020. Studies of children and adolescents (aged ≤18 years) with ADHD that focused on overdiagnosis plus studies that could be mapped to 1 or more framework question were included. Two researchers independently reviewed all abstracts and full-text articles, and all included studies were assessed for quality.
Of the 12 267 potentially relevant studies retrieved, 334 (2.7%) were included. Of the 334 studies, 61 (18.3%) were secondary and 273 (81.7%) were primary research articles. Substantial evidence of a reservoir of ADHD was found in 104 studies, providing a potential for diagnoses to increase (question 1). Evidence that actual ADHD diagnosis had increased was found in 45 studies (question 2). Twenty-five studies showed that these additional cases may be on the milder end of the ADHD spectrum (question 3), and 83 studies showed that pharmacological treatment of ADHD was increasing (question 4). A total of 151 studies reported on outcomes of diagnosis and pharmacological treatment (question 5). However, only 5 studies evaluated the critical issue of benefits and harms among the additional, milder cases. These studies supported a hypothesis of diminishing returns in which the harms may outweigh the benefits for youths with milder symptoms.
Conclusions and Relevance
This review found evidence of ADHD overdiagnosis and overtreatment in children and adolescents. Evidence gaps remain and future research is needed, in particular research on the long-term benefits and harms of diagnosing and treating ADHD in youths with milder symptoms; therefore, practitioners should be mindful of these knowledge gaps, especially when identifying these individuals and to ensure safe and equitable practice and policy.
Create a personal account or sign in to: