Generally, adults who lived with undiagnosed ADHD and then got diagnosed will tell you that their diagnosis was a good thing. Sometimes even an epiphany.

Fortune CookiesGetting diagnosed can help you understand aspects of your life that didn’t make sense before and can help you find a path to a more fulfilling, less stressful life. I’ve talked about this a lot in other posts.

However, it’s all anecdotal. What about some hard data on what happens to adults with ADHD after they get diagnosed? Well, look no further than a new study from researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden.

(I mean, you can look further. But this seems like as good a place to start as any.)

In the study, the researchers tracked a group of 124 adults with ADHD for six years after their diagnosis. The researchers looked at whether these people used medication, how their symptoms changed, and what their lives looked like six years later.

Maybe the most significant finding is that, for these people, things got better over the course of the six years. In particular, they scored higher on a measure of “global functioning” – basically, how they functioned overall in all parts of their lives – when the researchers followed up with them.

We don’t have data on whether this was because they’d gotten diagnosed, but it probably didn’t hurt. Any way you look at it, though, it’s good news for us that adults with ADHD do better in life over time! This appears to hold true even for adults with ADHD who have multiple other psychiatric disorders like anxiety or depression.

Some of the adults also experienced changes in their ADHD symptoms over the six years. In fact, a significant minority of the adults (about 1 in 3) no longer met the criteria for ADHD when they were evaluated the last time.

The vast majority of adults who were diagnosed start taking medication once they received their diagnosis, but about half stopped. Whether people were taking meds or not didn’t seem to affect whether their ADHD symptoms dropped below clinical levels over time.

There’s plenty of interesting questions these findings raise, including why ADHD symptoms appear to improve for some adults and why so many people with ADHD stop taking medication. Mostly, though, I think it’s nice to know that whether ADHD symptoms go away or not, the functioning of adults with ADHD typically does improve over time, presumably as they develop coping skills and a better understanding of the disorder.

Image: Flickr/Beth Kanter