Kids’ visits to healthcare services may be an ADHD early warning sign
A study has found that the frequency by which children and young people attend healthcare services – for a wide range of complaints – may be a sign of undiagnosed ADHD, highlighting the need for physicians to be on the lookout for signs other than the condition's core symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.
ADHD is commonly diagnosed in children and young people, usually between the ages of seven and nine. But, because it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder, symptoms are likely to have been present from an earlier age. One problem with diagnosing the condition is that general practitioners (GPs) have difficulty recognizing it.
Now, a new study by researchers at the University of Nottingham has found an interesting link between the frequency at which children and young people (CYP) attend healthcare services and the diagnosis of ADHD, which may act as an early warning sign for the condition.
“We know that children with ADHD often face long delays in diagnosis,” said Vibhore Prasad, lead and corresponding author of the study. “We didn’t know, until now, that they seek help from the healthcare services twice as often as children without ADHD in the run-up to diagnosis.”
The researchers looked at the medical records of 9,127 CYP with an ADHD diagnosis (aged between four and 17 at the time of diagnosis) and 40,136 non-ADHD controls. They focused on why children saw their GP, received prescriptions, attended hospital for overnight admissions and had operations.
The data showed that children with ADHD made twice as much use of these services in the two years before diagnosis compared to children without ADHD. While CYP with ADHD attended their GP, received prescriptions, and were admitted to the hospital for a wide range of reasons, the strongest association for GP attendance was for ‘mental and behavioral disorders.’ But other common reasons for attending a GP included eye, ear, nose, and throat complaints and physical conditions such as asthma and eczema.
The researchers say that identifying these frequent contacts with healthcare providers offers valuable insights that could lead to an earlier diagnosis of the condition. It also highlights that providers shouldn’t just be on the lookout for the core symptoms of ADHD – hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.
“Our findings demonstrate the need for further research so we can identify children with ADHD earlier to get them effective help,” Prasad said. “The results are significant because we know that identifying ADHD earlier can lead to effective treatment, including talking treatments and medicines, which can prevent a range of serious harms to young people and future adults.”
The study was published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Source: University of Nottingham