May 31, 2021

Assessing undertreatment and misuse of ADHD medications on four continents

To what extent are ADHD medications insufficiently used to address properly diagnosed ADHD? To what extent are they misused by persons who are either undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed?
In search of answers, an international team of researchers from Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature and a meta-analysis of studies from four continents - South America, North America, Europe, and Australia.

The benchmarks set for proper ADHD diagnosis were any of the following:
·        Criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), confirmed by validated diagnostic instruments or clinical interviews.
·        Use of validated ADHD symptom scales with pre-specified thresholds.
·        Participants or caregivers affirming ADHD diagnosis by a physician.

Medications reviewed were those recommended by the majority of the international guidelines-both stimulant(methylphenidate, dexmethylphenidate, amphetamines), and non-stimulant (atomoxetine).
The team excluded studies relying on the insurance health system and third-party reimbursement datasets because the focus was on rates of ADHD medication use in the entire population rather than among individuals searching for treatment.
A meta-analysis of18 studies with a total of 3,311 children and adolescents properly diagnosed with ADHD in seven countries on four continents (Canada, United States, Australia, Brazil, Netherlands, England, Venezuela) found an overall pharmacological treatment rate of only 19%. There was considerable variation, with the highest treatment rates in the United States (frequently over 40%) and the lowest treatment rates in Brazil, Venezuela, and Canada (under 10%). There was no sign of publication bias.
A second meta-analysis pooled 14 studies with a total of 29,559 children and adolescents without a proper diagnosis of ADHD in five countries on four continents (United States, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, Netherlands). Roughly 1% were using ADHD medications. Again, there was considerable variation, with the highest rates of medication misuse being reported in the United States and Venezuela (3-7%). Again, there was no sign of publication bias.
The authors cautioned, "it is important to note that even though the data collected constitute the most comprehensive evidence available in the literature and response/completion rates observed are acceptable, it does not constitute a world representative sample." Also, the predominance of samples from prosperous countries "most certainly inflates the treatment rates due to the exclusion of a large proportion of the world population with significant financial, cultural, and health access barriers to ADHD treatment."
They concluded, "Despite these limitations, our meta-analysis provides evidence for substantial undertreatment of children and adolescents affected by ADHD in different countries. This is a relevant public health issue worldwide since ADHD under treatment is associated with known negative outcomes in education, healthcare, and productivity systems. At the same time, we found evidence of overtreatment/misuse in individuals without a formal ADHD diagnosis. This practice might expose individuals to undesirable side effects of medications, increased risk of medication misuse, and unmeasured costs for the health care system."

RafaelMassuti, Carlos RenatoMoreira-Maia, FaustoCampani, MárcioSônego, JuliaAmaro, GláuciaChiyokoAkutagava-Martins, LucaTessari, Guilherme V.Polanczyk, SamueleCortese, Luis Augusto Rohde, “Assessing undertreatment and overtreatment/misuse of ADHD medications in children and adolescents across continents: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Neuroscience &Biobehavioral Reviews(2021), Vol. 128, 64-73, published online ahead of print,

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News Tuesday: Fidgeting and ADHD

A recent study delved into the connection between fidgeting and cognitive performance in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Recognizing that hyperactivity often manifests as fidgeting, the researchers sought to understand its role in attention and performance during cognitively demanding tasks. They designed a framework to quantify meaningful fidgeting variables using actigraphy devices.

(Note: Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. It involves the use of a small, wearable device called an actigraph or actimetry sensor, typically worn on the wrist, similar to a watch. The actigraph records movement data over extended periods, often days to weeks, to track sleep patterns, activity levels, and circadian rhythms. In this study, actigraphy devices were used to measure fidgeting by recording the participants' movements continuously during the cognitive task. This data provided objective, quantitative measures of fidgeting, allowing the researchers to analyze its relationship with attention and task performance.)

The study involved 70 adult participants aged 18-50, all diagnosed with ADHD. Participants underwent a thorough screening process, including clinical interviews and ADHD symptom ratings. The analysis revealed that fidgeting increased during correct trials, particularly in participants with consistent reaction times, suggesting that fidgeting helps sustain attention. Interestingly, fidgeting patterns varied between early and later trials, further highlighting its role in maintaining focus over time.

Additionally, a correlation analysis validated the relevance of the newly defined fidget variables with ADHD symptom severity. This finding suggests that fidgeting may act as a compensatory mechanism for individuals with ADHD, aiding in their ability to maintain attention during tasks requiring cognitive control.

This study provides valuable insights into the role of fidgeting in adults with ADHD, suggesting that it may help sustain attention during challenging cognitive tasks. By introducing and validating new fidget variables, the researchers hope to standardize future quantitative research in this area. Understanding the compensatory role of fidgeting can lead to better management strategies for ADHD, emphasizing the potential benefits of movement for maintaining focus.

July 16, 2024

Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

NEWS TUESDAY: Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

A recent study investigated the presence of autistic-like symptoms in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Given the overlapping social difficulties in both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), distinguishing between the two disorders can be challenging. This study aims to pinpoint specific patterns of autistic symptoms in children with ADHD, comparing them to those with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition (ADOS-2).

The research involved 43 school-age children divided into two groups:

  • ADHD Group (25 children): Initially referred for ASD symptoms but later diagnosed with ADHD.
  • ASD Group (18 children): Children diagnosed with ASD.

Researchers used ADOS-2 to evaluate differences in communication deficits, social interaction challenges, and repetitive behaviors between the two groups. The study also compared IQ, age, ADOS-2 domain scores, and externalizing/internalizing problems.

Key Findings:

  • Significant differences were found between the ADHD and ASD groups in ADOS-2 domain scores, including Social Affect, Restricted and Repetitive Behavior, and Total Score.
  • On an individual item level, children with ADHD displayed similar atypical behaviors as those with ASD in social-communication areas such as "Pointing" and "Gestures".
  • Both groups showed comparable frequencies in behaviors like "Stereotyped/idiosyncratic words or phrases", "Mannerisms", and "Repetitive interests and behaviors".

The study highlights the importance of identifying transdiagnostic domains that overlap between ADHD and ASD. The transdiagnostic domain refers to a set of symptoms or behaviors that are common across multiple diagnostic categories rather than being specific to just one. Identifying these domains in mental health practice and in psychological research is crucial to understanding, properly diagnosing, and treating conditions with overlapping features. This understanding could pave the way for tailored treatments addressing the specific needs of children with ADHD, particularly those exhibiting autistic-like symptoms.

July 9, 2024

Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

NEW STUDY: Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults is commonly treated with stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. However, not all patients respond well to these stimulants or tolerate them effectively. For such cases, non-stimulant medications provide an alternative treatment approach.

Recent research by Brancati et al. reviews the efficacy and safety of non-stimulant medications for adult ADHD. Atomoxetine, a well-studied non-stimulant, has shown significant effectiveness in treating ADHD symptoms in adults. The review highlights the importance of considering dosage, treatment duration, safety, and the presence of psychiatric comorbidities when prescribing atomoxetine.

Additionally, certain antidepressants, including tricyclic compounds, bupropion, and viloxazine, which possess noradrenergic or dopaminergic properties, have demonstrated efficacy in managing adult ADHD. Antihypertensive medications, especially guanfacine, have also been found effective. Other medications like memantine, metadoxine, and mood stabilizers show promise, whereas treatments like galantamine, antipsychotics, and cannabinoids have not yielded positive results.

The expert opinion section of the review emphasizes that while clinical guidelines primarily recommend atomoxetine as a second-line treatment, several other non-stimulant options can be utilized to tailor treatments based on individual patient needs and comorbid conditions. Despite these advancements, the authors call for further research to develop and refine more personalized treatment strategies for adults with ADHD.

This review underscores the growing landscape of non-stimulant treatment options, offering hope for more personalized and effective management of ADHD in adults.

June 25, 2024