The probability of having one’s child receive an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis involves a mother’s own medical conditions and her use of health services prior to having the child, a new study finds. 

Using records from a Northern California Kaiser Permanente database, the researchers identified three groups: mothers of children with ADHD, mother of children without ADHD and mothers of children with asthma. Authors then compared the mothers’ diagnoses, health care use and costs among the groups.

Mothers of children with ADHD spent about $1,000 more on health care in the year before and in the two years following the birth of their child compared to mothers who did not have children with ADHD and they had more illnesses than mothers of children with asthma did.

Specifically, G. Thomas Ray, lead author said, “The mothers of children who are diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed with health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorder and use more health services in the year prior to, and the two years after, the birth of their child, than mothers of children without ADHD or the mothers of children with asthma.” 

The new study implies “that the diagnoses and health care utilization that a mother receives prior to having her child is predictive of having a child who is diagnosed with ADHD,” said Ray. “Our study raises the possibility that certain types of mothers — those who get or seek diagnoses and who use more health services — may be more likely to seek ADHD diagnoses for their children.”  

Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., editor of the Journal of Attention Disorders and a research professor of psychology at George Mason University, said the new study expands on previous work. 

For example, a 1985 study from the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry “identified poor maternal health during pregnancy, young age of mothers, previous miscarriage, first pregnancy, prematurity, long labor and toxemia as maternal factors that significantly differentiated children with ADHD from controls,” Goldstein said. 

What is not clear, however, is whether the effects are due to biological, environmental or psychosocial factors — or some combination of these. 

“Keep in mind that the diagnosis of ADHD for the time being is not medical but behavioral,” Goldstein said. “A host of phenomena can contribute to the adverse behavioral symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of ADHD.” 

Ray recommends that future studies address the methods making an ADHD diagnosis, since such diagnoses are relatively subjective and since parents, teachers and physicians all influence the process.

Article: Ray GT, Croen LA, Habel LA. Mothers of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: health conditions and medical care utilization in periods before and after birth of the child. Medical Care, 47(1), 2009.