Who is affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Estimates vary about how many people are affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Part of this variation is probably due to the different sources health professionals use to diagnose it.1 The accepted standard for diagnosing ADHD is the DSM-IV criteria from the American Psychiatric Association.2 A child's dominant symptoms (inattention, impulsiveness, and/or hyperactivity) are determined and categorized. The condition affects about 3% to 7% of all school-age children in the United States.2

  • Boys are diagnosed with ADHD more often than girls, with a varying ratio of 2:1 to 9:1 depending on the specific type.2
  • Inattention is the most common type of ADHD diagnosed in girls. This type is the least likely of the three to be noticed in the early school years. It may not be detected until late childhood.2 Many girls may not be diagnosed and properly treated for the disorder until later in life.
  • It is not clear how many adults are affected by ADHD. However, overall estimates are that about one-third of children with ADHD continue to have significant symptoms into adulthood.3 More research is needed in this area.

In addition, more research is needed to determine how many preschool children and adolescents are affected by ADHD.4


  1. Committee on Quality Improvement, American Academy of Pediatrics (2000). Diagnosis and evaluation of the child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 105(5): 1158–1170.
  2. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Attention-deficit and disruptive behavior disorders. In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text rev., pp. 85–103. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
  3. Schweitzer JB ,et al. (2001). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Medical Clinics of North America, 85(3): 757–777.
  4. Brown RT, et al. (2001). Prevalence and assessment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in primary care settings. Pediatrics, 107(3): 1–11.

Last Updated: April 17, 2008

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