The need for earlier recognition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in primary care: a qualitative meta-synthesis of the experience of receiving a diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood

Fam Pract. 2022 Nov 22;39(6):1144-1155. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmac038.


Background: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopment disorder that affects individuals across the lifespan. ADHD causes dysfunction when left untreated. Individuals receiving a diagnosis in adulthood have a unique life experience because of their delayed diagnosis.

Objectives: To identify and methodically review qualitative studies that explored the experiences of receiving a diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood, conduct an interpretive analysis of the identified studies, and produce a qualitative meta-synthesis to provide an understanding of these experiences.

Methods: Studies with adults diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, focussed on experiences of receiving a delayed ADHD diagnosis, used qualitative methods, and were cited in PubMed, OVID, and ProQuest databases. Out of 251 studies identified, 7 met inclusion criteria.

Results: This qualitative meta-synthesis produced 2 main themes: ADHD as an identity and ADHD as a diagnosis, and 5 subthemes: identity before diagnosis, identity after diagnosis, the unnecessary struggle, the diagnosis as a revelation and a burden, and a functional life was finally possible.

Conclusion: Overall, this study showed that delayed diagnosis of ADHD causes suffering and dysfunction that could be mitigated through earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Keywords: adult; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; delayed diagnosis; primary health care; qualitative research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research