ADHD Often Goes Undiagnosed or Misdiagnosed

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can be very challenging to live with. Adults who have symptoms of ADHD are more likely to be in car accidents, be divorced, and often suffer financial hardships. “A.D.H.D. is a very debilitating mental disorder,” said Russell Barkley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. “It can produce more severe impairment, and in more domains of life, than depression or anxiety.” According to a recent article, nearly five percent of the adult population has ADHD, yet only a fraction of them ever get a proper diagnosis. The symptoms can mimic those of anxiety, bipolar or depression. Women, in particular, often get misdiagnosed. One of the first things to identify is if the symptoms have been present throughout your lifetime. Dr. Barkley added, “If you tell me, ‘My life was fine until I was 24,’ you don’t have this disorder.”

Finding a doctor who can diagnose ADHD correctly can cost time and money. Some clinicians prefer to have extensive evaluations conducted while others arrive at a diagnosis much too quickly. Ari Tuckman, a psychologist in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said, “Many clinicians do not know how to spot the signs.” He added, “I can’t guess how many clients I have had who have seen other psychologists, psychiatrists and primary care physicians who missed their A.D.H.D., even though it was burning like a bonfire. It’s possible to make a diagnosis by using a rating scale and a 10-minute discussion, but it’s also far too easy to make an inaccurate diagnosis or miss a diagnosis.” Experts recommend that a client make appointments with several professionals who have experience diagnosing and treating ADHD. Once diagnosed, experts emphasize that a person can learn to live a balanced and productive life if they receive the proper treatment for their ADHD symptoms.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Trevor

    Trevor

    May 18th, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    I thought that a different spin on this might be self control. I realize that ADHD is a problem in our society that there are solutions to.

  • Samuel Kane

    Samuel Kane

    May 18th, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    “I can’t guess how many clients I have had who have seen other psychologists, psychiatrists and primary care physicians who missed their A.D.H.D., even though it was burning like a bonfire.”

    I believe it. Is it possible that so many are missed because some longstanding physicians and the like haven’t studied the symptoms of more “modern” conditions, like ADHD that’s so common now, since the day they first got their license thirty years ago? I think that’s a reasonable assumption. They get left behind.

  • Maurice

    Maurice

    May 18th, 2011 at 6:59 PM

    I’m surprised this article hasn’t tried to find the reason why the diagnosis is missed.Well I’m no expert in the field but I think the reason is simple enough-It’s because people are so used to instant things that they want a visit to the doctor also to be instant,they do not have time for their own health and may even ask the doctor to go through the things quickly,to not extend the consultation session.

  • Deanne

    Deanne

    May 19th, 2011 at 4:27 AM

    Just like with any other disorder or disease the better educated you are then the better you learn how to manage and live with the symptoms. It all goes back to the fact that you do not have to let something control you. You get the tools and resources and educate yourself and your family and that keeps you as the one in control.

  • James

    James

    May 19th, 2011 at 5:55 AM

    Self-control is not a solution for ADHD, but behavioral therapies may help improve how those with it cope with their symptoms.

    I’ve seen many clinicians get “gun shy,” when addressing concerns about ADHD because of the media and stigma around medicinal treatments. Also, I’ve noticed that it is especially under-reported in those whom exhibit above average intelligence or those whom have little trouble in school settings.

    It’s unfortunate; as a clinician who has ADHD, I know the life changing affect appropriate diagnosis and care can make on one’s quality of life.

  • RW

    RW

    May 19th, 2011 at 7:10 PM

    If something is hard to diagnose or if it’s diagnosis has been missed quite a bit,like we are hearing of ADHD right now,it is only imperative that medical professionals’ associations issue this as an alert and then the professionals will be in a better position to diagnose and even the misdiagnosis cases will reduce.

  • Penny Rayas

    Penny Rayas

    May 19th, 2011 at 10:10 PM

    I have noticed that some doctors have a hard time diagnosing ADHD because of the stigma of the stimulant medications used for the treatment of ADHD. Some patients are also afraid to even bring up ADHD because of the disconception that medication is addictive. I think we need to educate primary doctors who are the point of entry for most people. I am suprised that Clinicians would miss this diagnosis.
    I agree that women, and girls are often not diagnosed because the visable behaviors and symptoms are a bit different.

  • Kevin

    Kevin

    May 20th, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    Well I am one of those adults who can honestly say that living with untreated and undiagnosed ADHD really caused me a lot of pain in my life. I was always a horrible student but my parents and teachers all told me just to buckle down and pay attention but of course we all know that that is a challenge for those of us who suffer with ADHD. I barely made it through 12th grade so college really was not an option for me. I have struggled to hold down a job, my marriages have ended as a result, and I am never focused on the task at hand. Not until recently have I really started to think about getting some real help but where is the money gonna come from? It is very frustrating to know what is going on but with no means to really fix it and get it under control.

  • Troy

    Troy

    May 20th, 2011 at 7:08 PM

    @RW:That is a very good suggestion. I hope the medical fraternity is listening!

    @Kevin:Sorry to hear about you but yes, what you have told about yourself does happen to quite a lot of people. Even today parents just blindfold themselves when it comes to a problem with their child because they want to believe that their child is free of any disorder. This results in there being no treatment and it only makes things worse for the child. I hope more educative programs are introduced.

  • Penny Rayas

    Penny Rayas

    May 20th, 2011 at 10:10 PM

    Kevin thanks for sharing your experience, hopefully people can learn from it, especially teachers and parents. To my exprience most people with ADHD have the same experience as you do. Teachers and parents who don’t understand why the child does not live up to what they see as thier potential tell them that it is their fault and they don’t try enough. ADHD is treatable and I hope you find the help you need.

  • Pete

    Pete

    May 21st, 2011 at 6:33 AM

    I would think that there are many aduts who were told that this was something that they would grow out of and they never did.

  • Bert McKay

    Bert McKay

    May 21st, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    The average man on the street would be surprised how many things are over or misdiagnosed.

    I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy because I was prone to seizures, but I had something completely different (a brain tumor).

    It’s always good to research on reputable sites such as this and do your own digging in addition to listening to your clinician’s opinion. Doctors are not infallible.

  • tori phillips

    tori phillips

    May 21st, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    “If you tell me, ‘My life was fine until I was 24,’ you don’t have this disorder.”

    That may be the case with ADHD but I’d caution readers that it doesn’t apply to everything.

    Some mental conditions can lie dormant or come out of nowhere, like Schizophrenia. That usually appears in adolescence but it can also appear several years later.

  • Lettie Newman

    Lettie Newman

    May 22nd, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    I don’t understand why I have to pay a doctor for failing to make a proper diagnosis. If I hired a maid and she did a poor job, I would kick her out on the spot and not pay her!

    It should be the same for doctors.

    Get the diagnosis wrong? Then give me my money back by refunding it to the insurance company. I’m not having my premiums increase because of your incompetence!

  • natalie defoe

    natalie defoe

    May 22nd, 2011 at 11:50 PM

    observe any symptoms or problems then head to your doctor quick.don’t waste time.in this case even if there is misdiagnosis there is still enough time to come back and realize something’s not constant with the other factors. if you delay paying the doctor a visit early on there is not much that can be done later if misdiagnosed and the treatment will be much elaborated,thereby causing you more problems!

  • Eliza

    Eliza

    May 23rd, 2011 at 4:53 AM

    Having ADHD as an adult is like being labeled as an out of control storm. You never know when that disaster is going to strike but you live with the knowledge that it will.

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