The number of young women prescribed medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) skyrocketed between 2003 and 2015, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report did not address why the medications are becoming so common. The findings could be an indication that ADHD is no longer such an overlooked disorder in women as it once was. But these medicines also are sometimes misused; they are stimulants that can help users stay awake and even lose weight. A recent study found a third of college students believe using these medicines can boost grades.
According to the CDC, the number of U.S. women between ages 15 and 44 with private insurance who filled an ADHD prescription in those years spiked 344 percent. For women ages 25 to 29, the jump was a whopping 700 percent. The vast majority of those prescriptions were for stimulant medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta.
The analysis' authors say that since many of these women are of childbearing age, more research is needed to determine how the medicines might affect pregnancy.
The authors note that half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. So ADHD medication use may coincide with early pregnancy – a critical period in fetal development. Additional research could help women and doctors make care decisions, the authors said.
Anthony L. Rostain, medical director of Penn's Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program, said the new analysis may signal a growing acceptance of ADHD as a diagnosis for women.
"This could be a sign more women are getting help," Rostain said.
In addition, he said the CDC study may lead to more discussions between women and their health-care providers about taking the medications during pregnancy, although the most current research has not found significant fetal risks.
He noted a recent report from the International Pregnancy Safety Study Consortium found what its authors called "a small increase" in the risk of congenital cardiac malformations with some ADHD-prescribed stimulants.
Patients may consider reducing or temporarily stopping their ADHD medication during the first trimester of pregnancy and then resuming it, provided the change in dosage doesn't result in a disabling increase in disorder symptoms, Rostain said.