March 5, 2022
Persons with ADHD have known to have high rates of psychiatric comorbidities. There is also growing evidence of somatic (non-psychiatric) comorbid disorders among youths with ADHD, such as metabolic syndrome (which can lead to type 2 diabetes) and chronic inflammation (such as asthma and allergic rhinitis). Much less is known, however, about comorbid conditions in adults with ADHD.
An international team of researchers looked for indicators of comorbid conditions in a nationwide cohort study using Swedish national registers. The target population was Swedish residents between the ages of 18 and 64 in 2013 and more specifically those who had been prescribed ADHD medication. They identified over 41,000 individuals who met these criteria, including over twenty thousand young adults aged 18-29 years, over sixteen thousand middle-aged adults aged 30-49 years, and over four thousand older adults aged 50-64. The remainder of the overall cohort were used as controls.
Young adults receiving ADHD medications were four times as likely to also be receiving somatic medications, and older adults were seven times as likely. The highest rate of co-medication -roughly five times more frequent than among controls - was for respiratory system medications. The second most common was for alimentary tract and metabolic system medications, with odds over four times higher than for controls. Cardiovascular system medications were the next most common, with odds among young adults receiving ADHD medications over four times those of controls, though reducing with age to being twice as common in older adults with ADHD. Patterns were similar among men and women.
Adults receiving ADHD medications were far more likely to also be receiving other psychotropic medications. Middle-aged adults were 21 times as likely to be dispensed such medications as controls, older adults eighteen times more likely, and younger adults fifteen times more likely.
For young adults prescribed ADHD medications, the most prevalent co-prescriptions were for addictive disorders, which were dispensed at over 26 times the rate for controls. For middle-aged and older adults, on the other hand, the most prevalent co-prescriptions were for antipsychotics, which were likewise dispensed at over 26 times the rate for controls. Results remained consistent for individuals who had an ADHD diagnosis in addition to an ADHD prescription.
In addition, individuals receiving ADHD medications were also on average taking more types of prescriptions, rising from 2.5 classes of medications at age 18 to five classes at age 64. For controls, the equivalent numbers were 0.9 types of medications at age 18, rising to 2.7 at age 64.
Looking at specific somatic medications prescribed, those for respiratory conditions were ones typically prescribed for asthma and allergic reactions, reinforcing a previously known association. Insulin preparations also had high rates of co-prescription, again further confirming the known association with obesity and diabetes.
On the other hand, the most commonly dispensed alimentary tract and metabolic system medications included proton pump inhibitors, typically prescribed for gastric/duodenal ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Sodium fluoride, prescribed to prevent dental caries, was also prominent. Neither of these is an established association and warrants further exploration.
Turning to psychotropic medications, the most frequent prescriptions were with drugs used to treat addictive disorders and with antipsychotics. Rates of opioid co-prescription were also notably high, a source of concern given the higher proclivity of persons with ADHD to substance use disorders.
Le Zhang, AndreasReif, Ebba Du Rietz, Tyra Lagerberg, Agnieszka Butwicka, Brian M. D'Onofrio, Kristina Johnell, Nancy L. Pedersen, Henrik Larsson, and Zheng Chang, "Comedicationand Polypharmacy With ADHD Medications in Adults: A Swedish Nationwide Study," Journal of Attention Disorders (2020),https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720923725.