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ADHD can often persist into adulthood

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MONDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- Children with ADHD often grow up to be adults with ADHD, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that of the 232 young adults in the study who had childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, 29 percent still had it at an average age of 27. What's more, 57 percent had at least one other mental health issue, such as alcohol abuse, depression or chronic anxiety.

"This shows us [ADHD] is a serious, chronic condition that's not being adequately addressed," said lead researcher Dr. William Barbaresi, who directs the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children's Hospital.

The findings, published online March 4 and in the April print issue of the journal Pediatrics, give a clearer picture of how often ADHD symptoms persist into adulthood, Barbaresi said.

Past studies have made a wide range of estimates -- partly because they often have focused on specific groups of kids, like boys referred to specialty treatment programs.

But the new study included 600 young adults from Rochester, Minn. -- about 40 percent of whom had ADHD as children. Barbaresi's team evaluated them for symptoms of adult ADHD and other psychiatric disorders.

"This is likely to be a more accurate description of what's happening in the real world," Barbaresi said.

His team found that persistent ADHD often went hand-in-hand with other issues. Of the study participants with adult ADHD, 81 percent had at least one additional mental health condition, compared with 47 percent of those whose ADHD symptoms had faded and 35 percent of those who had never had ADHD.

The study was funded by the U.S National Institutes of Health, but the original pilot work received funds from McNeil Consumer and Specialty Pharmaceuticals, which makes the ADHD drug Concerta.

J. Russell Ramsay, co-director of the Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said the findings add to evidence that "ADHD has important ripple effects throughout and across one's life, particularly in adulthood."

Depression, anxiety and substance abuse are the most common accompanying mental health issues. "In some cases," Ramsay said, "adults with previously unrecognized ADHD may seek treatment for these other conditions and may make partial progress -- only to later recognize that undiagnosed ADHD was a primary source of their coping difficulties."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 3 percent and 7 percent of school-aged kids nationwide have ADHD. A child with ADHD might be habitually unable to sit still, finish homework assignments or pay attention in class.

As kids get older, though, the signs generally become more subtle. Teenagers may no longer be disruptive in class, but instead be impulsive in their decisions -- such as taking risks when they're driving, Barbaresi said.

Likewise, an adult with ADHD may be impulsive and have trouble staying organized, being productive at work or sticking with one task at a time. Whatever the age, ADHD treatment involves medication, behavioral therapy or a combination of the two.

There is, however, a good deal of controversy surrounding ADHD, with critics charging that some children are being labeled as having a "disease" and treated with drugs they do not need. Ritalin and other so-called stimulant medications often are prescribed for ADHD, and some parents balk at the idea of having their child on such a powerful drug long-term.

"Of course, there are concerns about the accuracy of diagnosis and inappropriate treatment," Barbaresi said. But, he added, that's a concern in medicine in general.

Dr. Steve Balt, editor-in-chief of the Carlat Psychiatry Report, which bills itself as an alternative to journals with drug-industry funding, said the study "emphasizes the importance of accurately diagnosing and treating ADHD in childhood," but it has its limitations.