Early ADHD treatment may ward off problems in school

Reuters, Tuesday 26 Jun 2012

Stimulants that treat ADHD play a role in short-term increases in scores, relative to students who didn't take the treatment later on, according to a joint Icelandic/US study

Research suggests kids who get early treatment for their attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder don't have as much trouble as those who aren't prescribed medication until age 11 or 12.

Common medications used to treat ADHD include stimulants such as Vyvanse, Ritalin and Concerta.

"Their short-term efficacy in treating the core symptoms of ADHD -- the symptoms of hyperactivity and attention and impulsivity -- that has been established," said Helga Zoega, the lead author on the new study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

"With regard to more functional outcomes, for example academic performance or progress, there's not as much evidence there as to whether these drugs really help the kids academically in the long term," she told Reuters Health.

To try to answer that question, Zoega and colleagues from the United States and Iceland consulted prescription drug records and test scores from Icelandic elementary and middle school students between 2003 and 2008.

Out of more than 13,000 kids registered in the national school system, just over 1,000 were treated with ADHD drugs at some point between fourth and seventh grade - 317 of whom began their treatment during that span.

Kids with no record of an ADHD diagnosis tended to score similarly on the standardised math and language arts tests given in fourth and seventh grade. Those who were medicated for the condition were more likely to have their scores decline over the years - especially when stimulants weren't started until later on.

For math exams in particular, students who started on stimulants within one year of their fourth grade tests had an average score decline of less than one per cent between that and their seventh-grade exam - compared to a more than nine per cent drop for those who didn't get treated until sixth or seventh grade.

The difference was especially clear for girls, Zoega and her colleagues reported Monday in Pediatrics.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, parent reports suggest close to one in 10 kids and teens in the US have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, and two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis are treated with medication such as stimulants. 

ADHD drugs can come with side effects, including appetite loss, sleep problems and stomach aches .

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