March 12, 2021

Everything You Need to Know About ADHD

You've heard all sorts of misinformation about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD), whether from friends, the internet, or uninformed press articles. "ADHD is not real." Pharmaceutical companies invented ADHD to make money. I'm just a little ADD. Natural solutions are the best for ADHD treatment.

ADHD symptoms were first described in the late 1700s, primarily among hyperactive boys. It was described variously over 200 years as "fidgeting," "defects of moral control," "hyperkinetic reaction," "minimal brain damage" and eventually ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in the 1980s and ADHD today.

Because the natural tendency toward hyperactivity decreased with age, ADHD was originally thought to be a developmental disorder that disappeared in mid-to-late adolescence. When medicines were developed and used in ADHD treatment for young boys, physicians stopped prescribing them around mid-adolescence, because it was presumed the condition had been remediated. They were wrong. We know now that ADHD persists into adulthood for about two-thirds of ADHD youth.

ADHD was not widely recognized in girls until the mid-1990s when it became clear that girls, with ADHD, were less disruptive than boys with ADHD, were not being appropriately diagnosed. Girls with ADHD show less of the physical hyperactivity of boys, but suffer from "dreaminess," "lack of focus" and "lack of follow-through."

It was also in the 1990s that ADHD' pervasive comorbidity with depression, anxiety, mood, and autism spectrum disorders was established. At the same time, researchers were beginning to describe deficits in executive functioning and emotional dysregulation that became targets of substantial research in the 21stcentury.

Even with the 1990s recognition that ADHD is a lifetime disorder, equally present (in different forms) in both men and women, medical schools and continuing medical education courses (required for realizing sure of health professionals) have only begun to teach the most up-to-date evidence-based knowledge to the medical community. There still is much misinformation and a lack of knowledge among primary care professionals and the public.

ADHD Throughout the Lifespan

Most cases of ADHD start in Otero before the child is born. As a fetus, the future ADHD person carries versions of genes that increase the risk for the disorder. At the same time, they are exposed to toxic environments. These genetic and environmental risks change the developing brain, setting the foundation for the future emergence of ADHD.

In preschool, early signs of ADHD are seen in emotional lability, hyperactivity, disinhibited behavior and speech, and language and coordination problems. The full-blown ADHD syndrome typically occurs in early childhood, but can be delayed until adolescence. In some cases, the future ADHD person is temporarily protected from the emergence of ADHD due to factors such as high intelligence or especially supportive family and/or school environments. But, as the challenges of life increase, this social, emotional, and intellectual scaffolding is no longer sufficient to control the emergence of disabling ADHD symptoms.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, the emergence and persistence of the disorder are regulated by additional environmental risk factors such as family chaos, as well as the age-dependent expression of risk genes that exert different effects at different stages of development. During adolescence, most cases of ADHD persist and by the teenage years, many youths with ADHD have onset with a mood, anxiety, or substance use disorder. Indeed, parents and clinicians need to monitor ADHD youth for early signs of these disorders. Prompt treatment can prevent years of distress and disability.

By adulthood, the number of comorbid conditions increases, including obesity, which likely impacts future medical outcomes. Emerging data shows people with ADHD to be at increased risk for hypertension and diabetes. ADHD adults tend to be very inattentive, but show fewer symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. They remain at risk for substance abuse, low self-esteem, injuries due to accidents, occupational failure, and social disability, especially if they are not treated for the disorder.

Seven Important Concepts About ADHD

There are approximately 10 million U.S. adults with ADHD, 9 million of whom are undiagnosed. But with diligent research by the medical profession, we have learned seven important concepts about ADHD:
1.    ADHD has been documented worldwide in 5% of the population.
2.    Sixty-seven percent of ADHD children grow into ADHD adults and seniors. ADHD is heritable, runs in families, and is impacted by the physical environment and familial lifestyle.
3.    In youth, rates of ADHD are higher in males than females as males, but these rates even out by adulthood.
4.    ADHD coexists and is often masked by several other disorders—anxiety, depression, spectrum bipolar and autism disorder, substance abuse, alcoholism, obesity, risky behaviors, disorganized lives, working memory deficits, and significant executive dysfunctions that affect personal, social and work success.
5.    ADHD medications(stimulants and non-stimulants) are the most effective treatments for ADHD symptoms. Psychological support/training designed for ADHD, and lifestyle modifications, are important adjuncts to medicine.
6.    ADHD costs the U.S.economy more than $100 million annually in lost productivity, accidents, hospitalizations with comorbidities, and family and professional support for ADHD patients.
7.    ADHD is diagnosable and safely treatable in trained primary care practices.

How do you know if you or someone you love has ADHD? Evaluate your life against the seven concepts above. Then get screened and diagnosed by a health care professional. The diagnosis of ADHD should be done only by a licensed clinician who has been trained in ADHD. That clinician should have one goal in mind: to plan a safe and effective course of evidence-based treatment.

When diagnosing adults, it is also useful to collect information from a significant other, which can be a parent for young adults Ora spouse for older adults. But when such individuals are not available, diagnosing ADHD based on the patient's self-report is valid. Just remember that person, work, and family lives are improved with treatment. Research and technology related to ADHD improve all the time.

ADHD in Adults is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about ADHD, with evidence-based information and education for both healthcare professionals and the public. The website also features a new ADHD screener for predicting the presence of ADHD in adults.

Stephen V. Faraone, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience & Physiology at SUNY Update Medical University and a global expert on Adult ADHD.

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Are there Positive Aspects to ADHD?

Are there Positive Aspects to ADHD?

What are we to make of adults who exhibit the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but are nevertheless high-functioning and successful? A trio of British investigators has just published six case studies that explore this question.  It would have been better for them to have conducted a much larger, controlled research study but, in the absence of such data in the area, these case studies are intriguing and may help guide more informative research.

The authors recruited six successful men between the ages of 30 and 65 from a National Health Service tertiary service in London. Four were in long-term relationships, with children. All had good jobs.

In open-ended taped interviews of up to an hour in length, each was asked three questions:

1.     What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having ADHD?
2.     Please describe a time when you felt that your ADHD helped you to achieve something?
3.     What aspects of your ADHD would you miss if it went away?

Hyper-focus in ADHD is generally considered a deficit, inset-shifting, and task-switching. But the authors report that participants associated it with productivity. One said, “I think the energy that the ADHD brain seems to’s unfocused, quite scattered, chaotic and a bit random...but give that brain something that you can tune into, and it’s your interest, then all that random stuff just goes boom... I get this incredible intense concentration and that’s great for work.”
Participants also saw advantages in divergent thinking, with one stating, “I’m an artist.... a creative type... a Bohemian.... you are most likely to be a creative person if you are a divergent thinker....and not convergent... I am very creative and that’s through and through... I’m a fine art graduate, a musician, a published poet, an entrepreneur, a performer.”

All the participants reported being seen as nonconformists. Depending on a viewpoint, that can be seen as either detrimental or advantageous.
Impulsivity is a core symptom of ADHD. Participants however related it to bravery, and more specifically adventurousness, spontaneity, and thrill-seeking. One said, “thrill-seeking is an ADHD thing... I can list in my life have done white water rafting, bungee jumping, hand-glider pilot … I have done a lot in my life and achieved a lot and experienced a lot... Furthermore, I would see a lot of that as being quite positive, and a lot of that is ADHD drive.”
Another common theme was high energy and “spirit.” One participant said, “I’ve got all this energy.... a lot of energy... whatever it's to do with... nature/nurture/spiritual stuff.”

These testimonials are useful as a check on the usual narrative of impairment. ADHD does not predestine all it afflicts to an unfulfilling life. Many, often assisted by medication, still lead exciting, successful, rewarding lives.   Yet, we must be cautious in concluding that these individuals were successful because of their ADHD.  It is possible, even likely, that they had other strengths such as high intelligence that compensated for their ADHD symptoms.  We can not know from this report if their lives had been even more fulfilling or successful in the absence of ADHD.   See, for example, my blog about highly intelligent people with ADHD:

While the authors concede that “generalizing the findings of this study is not easy to do,” they inexplicably “also argue that the positive aspects we found are relevant to other adults with ADHD regardless of sample size, age, gender or ethnicity.”   It is not possible to draw such a definitive conclusion without a much larger sample.
On a hopeful note, they conclude, “This is a study that reaches out to people with lived experience of ADHD: service users, patients, family members, carers, partners, to say that not all symptoms of ADHD are maleficent. Recovery, high functionality, and flourishing with ADHD are possible. Too often people with lived experience hear about ADHD deficits, functional impairments, and associations with substance misuse, criminality, or other disadvantages on almost every level of life (school, work, relationships). … This study affirms the positive human qualities, assets, and attributes in ADHD that can promote and sustain high functioning and flourishing.” I fully endorse the idea that those with ADHD can have wonderful lives, especially if they receive appropriate treatment, both medical and psychological.

April 4, 2022

Advanced Economy Outlier: Even in China’s largest cities, ADHD is seldom treated with pharmaceuticals

Advanced Economy Outlier: Even in China’s largest cities, ADHD is seldom treated with pharmaceuticals

China is the outstanding economic growth story of the early twenty-first century. According to the World Bank, China has “experienced the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history – and has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty.”

That expansion has been accompanied by major investments in medical research, and medical treatment capability, especially in the major urban centers that have spearheaded the boom. Life expectancy has risen from 71 in 2000 to 77 in 2019, nearing the U.S. level of 79.

Yet when it comes to pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, China is an outlier, as revealed by a new study exploring the data in the two main medical insurance programs for its urban population.

The Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance(UEBMI) covers both employers and employees in public and private workplaces, while the Urban Residents Basic Medical Insurance (BMI) covers the unemployed. As of 2014, these programs cover over 97% of urban residents. The China Health Insurance Research Association (CHIRA) database is a random sampling database from the UEBMI and UBMI databases.

The study population consisted of residents of the 63 cities in the CHIRA database from 2013 through 2017. Prescription prevalence was calculated by dividing the total number of patients prescribed ADHD medications in the CH IRA database by the urban population of the included cities, which was two hundred million as of 2017.

Other studies have found the prevalence of ADHD among Chinese children and adolescents to be about 6.5%, comparable to North American and European countries. Yet, the prescription prevalence of ADHD medications was 0.036% among those aged 0–14 years in 2017 in China. In other words, only about one in every two hundred youths with ADHD were being prescribed pharmaceutical treatments.

For further context, among other economically prosperous countries in Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe, the lowest prescription prevalence of ADHD medications is 0.27% in France, which is still over seven times higher than the Chinese level.

Among Chinese urban dwellers from 15 through 64 years of age, ADHD prescription prevalence in 2017 dropped by a further order of magnitude (over tenfold) to 0.003%, and among those 65 and older, to a scant 0.001%.

The Chinese study team suggested several likely contributing factors:

  • Lack of training in ADHD treatment among clinical practitioners;
  • Government fears of addiction have led to strict control of stimulant medications;
  • Discontinuation of methylphenidate production by Chinese pharmaceutical enterprises in 2009 meant having to purchase more expensive imported ADHD medications;
  • Widespread parental belief that ADHD is just “bad behavior,” not a disease requiring medication;
  • Parental reliance on alternative treatments, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 

April 2, 2022

Daytime Sleepiness, Cognitive Function, and Adult ADHD

What’s the relationship between daytime sleepiness and cognitive functioning in adults with ADHD?

Sleep disorders are one of the most commonly self-reported comorbidities of adults with ADHD, affecting 50 to 70 percent of them. A team of British researchers set out to see whether this association could be further confirmed with objective sleep measures, using cognitive function tests and electroencephalography (EEG).

Measured as theta/beta ratio, EEG slowing is a widely used indicator in ADHD research. While it occurs normally in non-ADHD adults at the conclusion of a day, during the day it signals excessive sleepiness, whether from obstructive sleep apnea or neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders. Coffee reverses EEG slowing, as do ADHD stimulant medications.

Study participants were either on stable treatment with ADHD medication (stimulant or non-stimulant medication) or on no medication. Participants had to refrain from taking any stimulant medications for at least 48 hours prior to taking the tests. Persons with IQ below 80 or with recurrent depression or undergoing a depressive episode were excluded.

The team administered a cognitive function test, The Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART). Observers rated on-task sleepiness using videos from the cognitive testing sessions. They wired participants for EEG monitoring.

Observer-rated sleepiness was found to be moderately higher in the ADHD group than in controls. Although sleep quality was slightly lower in the sleepy group than in the ADHD group, and symptom severity slightly greater in the ADHD group than the sleepy group, neither difference was statistically significant, indicating extensive overlap.

Omission errors in the SART were strongly correlated with sleepiness level, and the strength of this correlation was independent of ADHD symptom severity. EEG slowing in all regions of the brain was more than 50 percent higher in the ADHD group than in the control group and was highest in the frontal cortex.

Treating the sleepy group as a third group, EEG slowing was highest for the ADHD group, followed closely by the sleepy group, and more distantly by the neurotypical group. The gaps between the ADHD and sleepy groups on the one hand, and the neurotypical group on the other, were both large and statistically significant, whereas the gap between the ADHD and sleepy groups was not. EEG slowing was both a significant predictor of ADHD and of ADHD symptom severity.

The authors concluded, “These findings indicate that the cognitive performance deficits routinely attributed to ADHD … are largely due to on-task sleepiness and not exclusively due to ADHD symptom severity. … we would like to propose a simple working hypothesis that daytime sleepiness plays a major role in cognitive functioning of adults with ADHD. … As adults with ADHD are more severely sleep deprived compared to neurotypical control subjects and are more vulnerable to sleep deprivation, in various neurocognitive tasks they should manifest larger sleepiness-related reductions in cognitive performance. … One clear testable prediction of the working hypothesis would be that carefully controlling for sleepiness, time of day, and/or individual circadian rhythms would result in a substantial reduction in the neurocognitive deficits in replications of classic ADHD studies.”

March 31, 2022