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Pair of large U.S. cohort studies find little to no evidence of association between child and adolescent ADHD and digital media screen time

Large Cohort Studies Find Little-to-No Evidence of Association Between ADHD and Digital Media Screen Time

These days, kids in America are using digital devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs more than ever. Some people worry that this might be linked to ADHD, a condition that makes it hard for kids to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors.

Two new studies tried to find out if there's a connection between screen time and ADHD. They used data from a big survey about kids' health across the U.S. One study looked at nearly 46,000 kids aged six to 17 over two years, from 2019 to 2020. The other study analyzed data from over 101,000 kids aged zero to 17, from 2018 to 2020.

The studies figured out if a child had ADHD by asking their caregivers if a doctor or health care provider ever told them that the child had ADHD.

Findings from the First Study

The first study found that kids who used screens for two to three hours a day were 22% more likely to have ADHD. Kids who used screens for four or more hours a day were 74% more likely to have ADHD compared to kids who used screens for less than two hours a day.

However, when the researchers considered other factors like the child's age, sex, poverty status, parents' education, race, and other health problems, the link between screen time and ADHD disappeared. They did find a small link between screen time and anxiety and depression, but no link at all with ADHD.

Findings from the Second Study

The second study also considered factors that might affect the results, but they didn't look at whether the child had other behavior problems. They found that for kids five years old and under, using screens for up to three hours a day didn't make them more likely to have ADHD. But kids who used screens for four or more hours a day were twice as likely to have ADHD compared to kids who used screens for less than an hour a day.

For kids aged six to 17, those who used screens for two hours a day were 11% more likely to have ADHD. Kids who used screens for three hours a day were 16% more likely, and kids who used screens for four or more hours a day were 32% more likely to have ADHD compared to kids who used screens for less than an hour a day.

Important Points to Remember

There are two key things to keep in mind from these studies:

  1. The differences found were pretty small.
  2. The first study suggested that anxiety and depression might actually be the reason for the link between screen time and ADHD, not the screen time itself.

Conclusion

Overall, these studies didn't find strong evidence that using digital devices causes ADHD in kids and teenagers. While there might be some small connections, other factors like anxiety and depression could play a bigger role.  Also, this was not a controlled experiment.  It is an observational study that cannot rule out many factors. It is importaant to consider that having ADHD causes one to use digital devices more frequently.

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Using Video Analysis and Machine Learning in ADHD Diagnosis

NEWS TUESDAY: Machine Learning and The Possible Future of Diagnosing ADHD

Objective and automatic assessment approach for diagnosing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder based on skeleton detection and classification analysis in outpatient videos

Typically, clinicians rely on both subjective and objective observations, patient interviews and questionnaires, as well as reports from family and (in the case of children) parents and teachers, in order to diagnose ADHD. 

A group of researchers are aiming to find a diagnostic test that is purely objective and utilizes recent technological advancements. The method they developed involves analyzing videos of children in outpatient settings, focusing on their movements. The study included 96 children, half of whom had ADHD and half who did not.

How It Works

  1. Video Recording: Children were recorded during their outpatient visits.
  2. Skeleton Detection: Using a tool called OpenPose, the researchers detected and tracked the children's skeletons (essentially a map of their body's movements) in the videos.
  3. Movement Analysis: The researchers analyzed these movements, looking at 11 different movement features. They specifically focused on the angles of different body parts and how much they moved.
  4. Machine Learning: Six different machine learning models were used to see which movement features could best distinguish between children with ADHD and those without.

Key Findings

  • Movement Differences: Children with ADHD showed significantly more movement in all the features analyzed compared to children without ADHD.
  • Thigh Angle: The angle of the thigh was the most telling feature. On average, children with ADHD had a thigh angle of about 157.89 degrees, while those without ADHD had an angle of 15.37 degrees.
  • High Accuracy: Using thigh angle alone, the model could diagnose ADHD with 91.03% accuracy. It was very sensitive (90.25%) and specific (91.86%), meaning it correctly identified most children with ADHD and correctly recognized most children without it.

This new method could potentially provide a more objective way to diagnose ADHD, reducing the reliance on subjective observations and reports. It can help doctors make more accurate diagnoses, ensuring that those who need help get it and that those who don't aren't misdiagnosed.

May 28, 2024
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Understanding Attention to Social Images in Children with ADHD and Autism

NEWS TUESDAY: Understanding Attention to Social Images in Children with ADHD and Autism

In the field of mental health, professionals often use a variety of tools to diagnose and understand neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One such tool is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), which is specifically designed to help diagnose autism. However, the ADOS wasn't originally intended for children who have both autism and ADHD, though this comorbidity is not uncommon.

A recent study aimed to explore how children with ADHD, autism, or both, pay attention to social images, such as faces. The study focused on using eye-tracking technology to measure where children direct their gaze when viewing pictures, and how long they look at certain parts of the image. This is important because differences in visual attention can provide insights into the nature of these disorders.

The researchers included 84 children in their study, categorized into four groups: those with ASD, those with ADHD, those with both ASD and ADHD, and neurotypical (NT) children without these conditions. During the study, children were shown social scenes from the ADOS, and their eye movements were recorded. The ADOS assessment was administered afterward. To ensure that the results were not influenced by medications, children who were on stimulant medications for ADHD were asked to pause their medication temporarily.

The results of the study showed that children with ASD, whether they also had ADHD or not, tended to spend less time looking at faces compared to children with just ADHD or NT children. The severity of autism symptoms, measured by the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), was associated with reduced attention to faces. Interestingly, ADHD symptom severity, measured by Conners' Rating Scales (CRS-3), did not correlate with how children looked at faces.

These findings suggest that measuring visual attention might be a valuable addition to the assessment process for ASD, especially in cases where ADHD is also present. The study indicates that if a child with ADHD shows reduced attention to faces, it might point to additional challenges related to autism. The researchers noted that more studies with larger groups of children are needed to confirm these findings, but the results are promising. They hope that such measures could eventually enhance diagnostic processes and help in managing the complexities of cases involving comorbidity of ADHD and ASD.

This research opens up the possibility of using eye-tracking as a supplementary diagnostic tool in the assessment of autism, providing a more nuanced understanding of how attentional differences in social settings are linked to ASD and ADHD.

May 14, 2024
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NEW STUDY: RASopathies Influences on Neuroanatomical Variation in Children

NEW STUDY: RASopathies Influences on Neuroanatomical Variation in Children

This study investigates how certain genetic disorders, called RASopathies, affect the structure of the brain in children. RASopathies are conditions caused by mutations in a specific signaling pathway in the body. Two common RASopathies are Noonan syndrome (NS) and neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), both of which are linked to a higher risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers analyzed brain scans of children with RASopathies (91 participants) and compared them to typically developing children (74 participants). They focused on three aspects of brain structure: surface area (SA), cortical thickness (CT), and subcortical volumes.

The results showed that children with RASopathies had both similarities and differences in their brain structure compared to typically developing children. They had increased SA in certain areas of the brain, like the precentral gyrus, but decreased SA in other regions, such as the occipital regions. Additionally, they had thinner CT in the precentral gyrus. However, the effects on subcortical volumes varied between the two RASopathies: children with NS had decreased volumes in certain structures like the striatum and thalamus, while children with NF1 had increased volumes in areas like the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus.

Overall, this study highlights how RASopathies can impact the development of the brain in children. The shared effects on SA and CT suggest a common influence of RASopathies on brain development, which could be important for developing targeted treatments in the future.

In summary, understanding how these genetic disorders affect the brain's structure can help researchers and healthcare professionals develop better treatments for affected children.

April 30, 2024
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News Tuesday: Integrating Cognition and Eye Movement

Integrating Cognitive Factors and Eye Movement Data in Reading Predictive Models for Children with Dyslexia and ADHD-I

In a recent study, researchers delved into the complex interplay of cognitive processes and eye movements in children with dyslexia and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Their findings shed light on predictive models for reading outcomes in these children compared to typical readers.

The study involved 59 children: 19 typical readers, 21 with ADHD, and 19 with developmental dyslexia (DD), all in the 4th grade and around 9 years old on average. Each group underwent thorough neuropsychological and linguistic assessments to understand their psycholinguistic profiles.

During the study, participants engaged in a silent reading task where the text underwent lexical manipulation. Researchers then analyzed eye movement data alongside cognitive factors like memory, attention, and visual processes.

Using multinomial logistic regression, the researchers evaluated predictive models based on three key measures: a linguistic model focusing on phonological awareness, rapid naming, and reading fluency; a cognitive neuropsychological model incorporating memory, attention, and visual processes; and an additive model combining lexical word properties with eye-tracking data, specifically examining word frequency and length effects.

By integrating eye movement data with cognitive factors, the researchers enhanced their ability to predict the development of dyslexia or ADHD, in comparison to typically developing readers. This approach significantly improved the accuracy of predicting reading outcomes in children with learning disabilities.

These findings have profound implications for understanding and addressing reading challenges in children. By considering both cognitive processes and eye movement patterns, educators and clinicians can develop more effective interventions tailored to the specific needs of children with dyslexia and ADHD.

April 30, 2024
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Exploring Gut Microbiota and Diet in Autism and ADHD: What Does the Research Say?


In recent years, there has been growing interest in understanding the connection between our gut microbiota (the community of microorganisms in our digestive system) and various neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A new study by Shunya Kurokawa and colleagues dives deeper into this area, comparing dietary diversity and gut microbial diversity among children with ASD, ADHD, their normally-developing siblings, and unrelated volunteer controls. Let's unpack what they found and what it means.

The Study Setup

The researchers recruited children aged 6-12 years diagnosed with ASD and/or ADHD, along with their non-ASD/ADHD siblings and the unrelated non-ASD/ADHD volunteers. The diagnoses were confirmed using standardized assessments like the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 (ADOS-2). The study looked at gut microbial diversity using advanced DNA extraction and sequencing techniques, comparing alpha-diversity indices (which reflect the variety and evenness of microbial species within each gut sample) across different groups. They also assessed dietary diversity through standardized questionnaires.

Key Findings

The study included 98 subjects, comprising children with ASD, ADHD, both ASD and ADHD, their non-ASD/ADHD siblings, and the unrelated controls. Here's what they discovered:

Gut Microbial Diversity: The researchers found significant differences in alpha-diversity indices (like Chao 1 and Shannon index) among the groups. Notably, children with ASD had lower gut microbial diversity compared to unrelated neurotypical controls. This suggests disorder-specific differences in gut microbiota, particularly in children with ASD.

Dietary Diversity: Surprisingly, dietary diversity (assessed using the Shannon index) did not differ significantly among the groups. This finding implies that while gut microbial diversity showed disorder-specific patterns, diet diversity itself might not be the primary factor driving these differences.

What Does This Mean?

The study highlights intriguing connections between gut microbiota and neurodevelopmental disorders like ASD and ADHD. The lower gut microbial diversity observed in children with ASD points towards potential links between gut health and the pathophysiology of ASD. Understanding these connections is crucial for developing targeted therapeutic interventions.

Implications and Future Directions

This research underscores the importance of considering gut microbiota in the context of neurodevelopmental disorders. Moving forward, future studies should account for factors like co-occurrence of ASD and ADHD, as well as carefully control for dietary influences. This will help unravel the complex interplay between gut microbiota, diet, and neurodevelopmental disorders, paving the way for innovative treatments and interventions.

In summary, studies like this shed light on the intricate relationship between our gut health, diet, and brain function. By unraveling these connections, researchers are opening new avenues for understanding and potentially treating conditions like ASD and ADHD.

April 9, 2024
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Swedish Population Study Confirms Association Between ADHD and Height

Nationwide population study in Sweden confirms association between ADHD and shorter height in children and adolescents, suggests stimulant medications are not a factor

A commonly reported risk associated with ADHD medication is reduced growth in height. But studies to date have generally not adequately described or measured possible confounders, such as genetic factors, prenatal factors, or socioeconomic factors.

A commonly reported risk associated with ADHD medication is reduced growth in height. But studies to date have generally not adequately described or measured possible confounders, such as genetic factors, prenatal factors, or socioeconomic factors. What if ADHD were associated with reduced height even in the absence of medications? 

An international study team explored this question by performing a nationwide population study comparing data from before (1968-1991) and after (1992-2020) the adoption of stimulant therapy for ADHD in Sweden. 

The country’s single-payer health insurance system that connects patient records with all other national registers through unique personal identification numbers makes such analysis possible. Sweden also has military service conscription, which records the heights of 18-year-old males.

The participants were all 14,268 Swedish males with a diagnosis of ADHD who were drafted into military service at any time from 1968 through 2020. 

Up to five non-ADHD controls were identified for each ADHD case, matched by sex (they had to be male), birth year, and county. The total number of controls was 71,339.

Among 34,586 participants in the period before adoption of stimulant medications (1968-1991), those diagnosed with ADHD had roughly 30% greater odds of being shorter than normal (166-172 vs. 173-185 cm) than typically developing controls. That dropped to 20% greater odds among the 34,714 participants in the cohort following adoption of stimulant medications.

The odds of those diagnosed with ADHD being much shorter than normal (150-165 vs. 173-185 cm) remained identical (about 55% greater) among the almost 30,000 participants in both cohorts.

In other words, there was no increase in the odds of ADHD individuals being shorter than normal after adoption of stimulant therapy in Sweden compared with before such adoption.

Furthermore, after adjusting for known confounders, including birth weight, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, hypothyroidism, anxiety disorders, depression, substance use disorder, and highest parental education, the odds of those diagnosed with ADHD being shorter than normal or much shorter than normal in the 1992-2020 cohort dropped to roughly 10% and 30% greater, respectively.

Could it be the disorder itself rather than stimulant treatment that is associated with reduced height in individuals diagnosed with ADHD?

To address effects of environmental and familial/genetic confounding, the team then compared the entire cohort of males diagnosed with ADHD from 1968 through 2020 with typically developing male relatives, ranging from first cousins to full siblings.

Among full siblings, the odds of those with ADHD diagnoses being shorter (over 90,000 participants) or much shorter (over 77,000 participants) were a statistically significant 14% and 18%, respectively.

The authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that ADHD is associated with shorter height. On a population level, this association was present both before and after ADHD-medications were available in Sweden. The association between ADHD and height was partly explained by prenatal factors, psychiatric comorbidity, low SES [socioeconomic status] and a shared familial liability for ADHD.”

January 9, 2024
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Swedish nationwide population study finds mothers with ADHD have elevated risk of depression and anxiety disorders after childbirth

Swedish nationwide population study finds mothers with ADHD have elevated risk of depression and anxiety disorders after childbirth

In the general population, most mothers experience mood disturbances right after childbirth, commonly known as postpartum blues, baby blues, or maternity blues. Yet only about one in six develop symptoms with a duration and magnitude that require treatment for depressive disorder, and one in ten for anxiety disorder.

In the general population, most mothers experience mood disturbances right after childbirth, commonly known as postpartum blues, baby blues, or maternity blues. Yet only about one in six develop symptoms with a duration and magnitude that require treatment for depressive disorder, and one in ten for anxiety disorder.

To what extent does ADHD contribute to the risk of such disorders following childbirth? A Swedish study team used the country’s single-payer health insurance database and other national registers to conduct the first nationwide population study to explore this question.

They used the medical birth register to identify all 420,513 women above 15 years of age who gave birth to their first child, and all 352,534 who gave birth to their second child, between 2005 and 2013. They excluded miscarriages. They then looked for diagnoses of depression and/or anxiety disorders up to a year following childbirth.

In the study population, 3,515 mothers had been diagnosed with ADHD, and the other 769,532 had no such diagnosis. 

Following childbirth, depression disorders were five times more prevalent among mothers with ADHD than among their non-ADHD peers. Excluding individuals with a prior history of depression made little difference, lowering the prevalence ratio to just under 5. Among women under 25, the prevalence ratio was still above 3, while for those 25 and older it was above 6.

Similarly, anxiety disorders were over five times more prevalent among mothers with ADHD than among their non-ADHD peers. Once again, excluding individuals with a prior history of depression made little difference, lowering the prevalence ratio to just under 5. Among women under 25, the prevalence ratio was still above 3, while for those 25 and older it was above 6.

The team cautioned, “There is a potential risk of surveillance bias as women diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have repeated visits to psychiatric care and might have an enhanced likelihood of also being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders postpartum, compared to women without ADHD.”

Nevertheless, they concluded, “ADHD is an important risk factor for both depression and anxiety disorders in the postpartum period and should be considered in the post- pregnancy maternal care, regardless of sociodemographic factors and the presence of other psychiatric disorders. Parental education prior to conception, psychological surveillance during, and social support after childbirth should be provided to women diagnosed with ADHD.”

December 22, 2023
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Meta-analysis suggests acupuncture might offer effective treatment for ADHD, but suffers from methodological flaws

Meta-analysis suggests acupuncture might offer effective treatment for ADHD, but suffers from methodological flaws

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that pricks the skin with needles, either to alleviate pain or to treat a variety of physical, mental, and emotional conditions.

Noting that previous “systematic reviews concluded that currently available data on the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for treating ADHD are yet to be sufficient to support its routine use,” a South Korean study team conducted an updated systematic search of the medical literature for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing acupuncture with drug treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD. There were no restrictions on language or publication type.

Only two of the meta-analyses involved more than two RCTs. 

One of them, of six RCTs with a combined 541 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of acupuncture to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines. 

Another, of five RCTs with a total of 351 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of combined acupuncture and ADHD drugs to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines.

Two RCTs with a Noting that previous “systematic reviews concluded that currently available data on the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for treating ADHD are yet to be sufficient to support its routine use,” a South Korean study team conducted an updated systematic search of the medical literature for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing acupuncture with drug treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD. There were no restrictions on language or publication type.

Only two of the meta-analyses involved more than two RCTs. 

One of them, of six RCTs with a combined 541 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of acupuncture to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines. 

Another, of five RCTs with a total of 351 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of combined acupuncture and ADHD drugs to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines.

Two RCTs with a combined 152 participants reported a large effect size improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms from acupuncture treatment versus conventional drug treatment.

From this one could superficially conclude that acupuncture is at least as effective for treating ADHD as the medicines currently considered to be the standard of care, and that there is no need to combine acupuncture with drug treatment.

However, there were numerous methodological shortcomings:

  • No effort was made to look for publication bias.
  • There were few RCTs, and the combined number of participants was relatively small.
  • Only one of the six RCTs in the first meta-analysis and none of the five RCTs in the second meta-analysis was rated “low risk of bias.”
  • Though nowhere stated in the journal article, there may have been cultural bias as well. All studies included in the meta-analyses were conducted in China. As China has emerged as a global superpower, it has been eager to portray its traditional medicine as at least equal if not superior to forms of medicine originating elsewhere.
  • The authors noted, “the quality of the studies included in this systematic review was poor. Assessing the blinding of studies is a major aspect in determining the risk of bias of a study, but most of the studies did not provide any relevant information.” 

The authors concluded, “The current evidence on AT [acupuncture treatment] is still too limited to support its routine use in treating ADHD.”

152 participants reported a large effect size improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms from acupuncture treatment versus conventional drug treatment.

From this one could superficially conclude that acupuncture is at least as effective for treating ADHD as the medicines currently considered to be the standard of care, and furthermore that there is no need to combine acupuncture with drug treatment.

However, there were numerous methodological shortcomings:

  • No effort was made to look for publication bias.
  • There were few RCTs, and the combined number of participants was relatively small.
  • Only one of the six RCTs in the first meta-analysis and none of the five RCTs in the second meta-analysis was rated “low risk of bias.”
  • Though nowhere stated in the journal article, there may have been cultural bias as well. All studies included in the meta-analyses were conducted in China. As China has emerged as a global superpower, it has been eager to portray its traditional medicine as at least equal if not superior to forms of medicine originating elsewhere.
  • The authors noted, “the quality of the studies included in this systematic review was poor. Assessing the blinding of studies is a major aspect in determining the risk of bias of a study, but most of the studies did not provide any relevant information.” 

The authors concluded, “The current evidence on AT [acupuncture treatment] is still too limited to support its routine use in treating ADHD.”

January 4, 2024
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New Zealand national birth cohort finds young adults with ADHD overrepresented at all stages of the criminal justice system

National Birth Cohort Finds Young Adults with ADHD Over-represented in Criminal Justice System

Using Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), a large database of linked de-identified administrative and survey data about people and households, a local study team examined a three-year birth cohort (mid-1992 through mid-1995) totaling 149,076 persons.

Using Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), a large database of linked de-identified administrative and survey data about people and households, a local study team examined a three-year birth cohort (mid-1992 through mid-1995) totaling 149,076 persons.

The team assessed the presence of ADHD within this cohort through diagnosis codes and inference from medication dispensing, where there was at least one code relating to an ADHD diagnosis in the medication datasets. This subgroup consisted of 3,975 persons.

Next, they related this information to criminal justice system interactions of increasing severity, starting with police proceedings, and continuing with court charges, court convictions, and incarcerations. These interactions were tracked during an eight-year period from participants’ 17th birthday through their 25th birthday.

In this same period the team also tracked types of offenses: against people; against property; against organizations, government, and community; and violent offenses.

In all cases, the study team adjusted for gender, ethnicity, deprivation, and area of residence as potential confounders. 

With these adjustments, young adults with ADHD were over twice as likely as their typically developing peers to be proceeded against by police, to be charged with an offense, and to be convicted. They were almost five times as likely to be incarcerated. 

With the same adjustments, young adults with ADHD were over twice as likely as their typically developing peers to be convicted of offenses against organizations, government, and community. They were almost three times as likely to be convicted of crimes against persons, and over three and a half times more likely to be convicted of either violent offenses or offenses against property.

The authors noted, “The greater effect size for incarceration observed in our study may be due to the lack of control for comorbid conditions such as CD [conduct disorder], which are known criminogenic risk factors.” 

They also noted, “The sharp increase in the risk of incarceration observed may also signal differences in the NZ justice system’s approach to ADHD, which may be less responsive to the condition than other nations, particularly the steps in the justice system between conviction and sentence. This would suggest that the UNCRPD [United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] obligations of equal recognition before the law and the elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability are not being met for individuals with ADHD in NZ.”

They concluded, “Our findings revealed that not only were individuals with ADHD overrepresented at all stages of the CJS [criminal justice system] and offense types examined, there was also a pattern of increasing risk for CJS interactions as these individuals moved through the system. These results highlight the importance of early identification and responsivity to ADHD within the CJS and suggest that the NZ justice system may require changes to both of these areas to ensure that young individuals with ADHD receive equitable access to, and treatment within, the CJS.”

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Nationwide population studies: atomoxetine not associated with birth defects

Nationwide population studies: atomoxetine not associated with birth defects

Treatment for ADHD among women of reproductive age is increasingly common. That means we need to know whether ADHD medications have any tendency to increase the risk of birth defects.

Treatment for ADHD among women of reproductive age is increasingly common. 

That means we need to know whether ADHD medications have any tendency to increase the risk of birth defects. Previous studies have looked mostly at ADHD medications that are central nervous system stimulants, especially methylphenidate and amphetamines.

Atomoxetine is the most widely prescribed non-stimulant for treating ADHD. It acts indirectly, by selectively inhibiting the removal of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that mobilizes the brain and body for action. 

To explore whether atomoxetine might be associated with any higher risk of birth defects, an international study team examined nationwide population data from four Nordic countries with universal single-payer health insurance systems – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland – along with nationwide data from the U.S. Medicaid system, which is likewise single-payer, and covers roughly half of all births in the U.S.

They compared the prevalence of major birth defects among infants born to women exposed to atomoxetine in the first trimester (three months) of pregnancy to the prevalence among infants born to women not exposed to any ADHD drug during the period beginning three months before their last menstrual period and concluding at the end of the first trimester.

The team adjusted for maternal characteristics such as maternal age, calendar year of delivery, childbirth and medical characteristics, psychiatric conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, and smoking.

In more than 2.4 million births in the four Nordic countries, and almost 1.8 million births in the U.S., there was absolutely no sign of increased prevalence of major infant malformations among infants born to mothers taking atomoxetine. 

More specifically looking at heart defects, there was again no significant association with maternal atomoxetine use, either in the Nordic population, the U.S. population, or the combined populations.

For limb malformations, there was again no significant association between maternal atomoxetine use and birth defects in the combined populations. There was an appearance of a significant association in the Nordic population, but that was based on only 5 instances, and because there were zero instances in the U.S. population, there was no net association at all in the combined population of more than 4.2 million.

The team concluded, “We found no increased prevalence of major congenital malformations overall associated with atomoxetine use in early pregnancy. The increased prevalence of limb malformations in the Nordic countries was not observed in the US. … Given the low absolute risk of both of these outcomes, these results are reassuring from a public health perspective and provide important information in the consideration of whether to continue treatment with atomoxetine during pregnancy.”

January 15, 2024
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