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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Testing the Necessity of Drugs

02/24/1998

Question:

What tests are usually performed to determine whether or not Ritalin is necessary?

Answer:

There are no tests that are diagnostic of ADHD and the need for Ritalin. The diagnosis is made by obtaining a careful history of the symptoms and how they affect the person. There are also questionnaires such as the Conner's Rating Scale that can be used to measure the amount of disability present from the symptoms of ADHD. Other questionnaires may also be used to help determine if there may be other causes of the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Possible other causes include mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, learning disorders, allergies and substance abuse. Once a diagnosis is made and treatment is begun, some tests can be administered to see if there is improvement in the symptoms. One example is a computerized continuous performance test. There are currently no specific tests that can help determine which medicine to use for treatment, either. Again, if medicine is used to treat the symptoms of ADHD, the most common first drug tried is Ritalin.

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Response by:

Margaret C Sweeney, MD
Formerly, Associate Professor of Clinical Family Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati