Can ADHD Be Accurately Diagnosed?

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Because of the subjective nature of the diagnosis, there has been a long running debate on the accuracy of the diagnosis as well as whether or not ADHD is over-diagnosed. The main symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention. Because these can be seen in all people from time to time, doctors look, not only at the behavior itself, but also, at the length of time it has been present and whether the behavior is excessive or age-inappropriate. Doctors will also ask about current life situations to determine if symptoms may be a reaction to stress and might be temporary or if the symptoms have been present for a long period of time. In addition, the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) states that symptoms must be present in at least two environments and must impair a person's life in those environments. For example, if someone has problems in school, but not at home or socially, then they would not qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD. In the same respect if a child is overly active at home but behaves well at school, a diagnosis of ADHD would not be appropriate.

The DSM-IV explains the diagnosis of ADHD in detail. It provides symptoms, conditions and other diagnostic criteria. When physicians are knowledgeable about ADHD and understand the criteria explained in the DSM-IV, the accuracy of diagnosis increases.

Physicians should also rule out any other physical or mental illnesses that may be causing symptoms. Some of these include:

  • Learning Disabilities

  • Seizures

  • Vision or Hearing problems

  • Anxiety or Depression

  • Lead Poisoning

Completing a thorough evaluation, including behavioral questionnaires, can make a diagnosis of ADHD very accurate.

See All of This Series:

Is ADHD Overdiagnosed?

Can ADHD Be Accurately Diagnosed?

Are We Overmedicating Our Children?

Pharmaceutical Companies Making a Profit on ADHD

Do Parents Seek a Diagnosis of ADHD instead of Disciplining Children?


ADHD Understanding the Problem, Updated 2008, March 24, TelosNet

"About Us - Feingold Association", 2008, Feingold Association of the United States

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[2] "Is ADHD Being Overdiagnosed", 1998, Nov 16, Meg Kissinger, Journal Sentinel

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[4] Report 10 of the Council on Science and Public Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 2008, June 2, CSAPH, American Medical Association

[3] "What Causes ADHD?", Last reviewed 2008, June 26, National Institute of Mental Health

[5] "International Consensus Statement on ADHD, 2002, Jan, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

"Adult ADHD Underdiagnosed", 2008, May 6, Charlene Laino,

[6] "ADHD Underdiagnosed in Girls", 2000, April 1, Ellen B. Littman, Family Practice News

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.