November 16, 2023

How Serious is ADHD?

The US Center for Disease Control's (CDC)review of ADHD starts with the statement: "Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a serious public health problem affecting many children and adults" ( My colleagues and I recently reviewed the ADHD literature. That let us describe ADHD as "... a seriously impairing, often persistent neurobiological disorder of high prevalence..." (Faraone et al., 2015). The figure 1, which comes from that paper, provides an overview of the lifetime trajectory of ADHD-associated morbidity.

Especially compelling data about ADHD and injuries comes from a recent paper, in Lancet Psychiatry, which used the Danish national registers to follow a cohort of 710,120 children (Dalsgaard et al., 2015a).   Compared with children not having ADHD, those with ADHD were 30% more likely to sustain injuries than other children.  Pharmacotherapy for ADHD reduced the risk for injuries by 32% from 5 to 10 years of age. Pharmacotherapy for ADHD reduced emergency room visits by 28.2% at age 10and 45.7% at age 12.    

These results are shown in Figure 2, taken from the publication.

Especially compelling data about ADHD and injuries comes from a recent paper, in Lancet Psychiatry, which used the Danish national registers to follow a cohort of 710,120 children (Dalsgaard et al., 2015a).   Compared with children not having ADHD, those with ADHD were 30% more likely to sustain injuries than other children.  Pharmacotherapy for ADHD reduced the risk for injuries by 32% from 5 to 10 years of age. Pharmacotherapy for ADHD reduced emergency room visits by 28.2%at age 10and 45.7% at age 12.    

These results are shown in Figure2, taken from the publication.  The Figure compares the prevalence of injuries among three groups.  ADHD children treated with medication, ADHD children not treated with medication, and children without ADHD.  The Figure shows how ADHD risk for injuries occurs for all age groups. It also shows how the risk for injuries drops with treatment so that by age 12, the prevalence of injuries among treated ADHD children is the same as the prevalence of injuries for children without ADHD.

Documented examples of ADHD-associated injuries which impact day-to-day functioning include severe burns (Fritz and Butz, 2007), dental injuries (Sabuncuoglu, 2007), penetrating eye injuries (Bayar et al., 2015), the hospital treated injuries (Hurtig et al., 2013), and head injuries (DiScala et al., 1998).  In one study (DiScala et al., 1998), when compared to other children admitted to the hospital for injuries, ADHD children were more likely to sustain injuries in multiple body regions (57.1% vs 43%), sustain head injuries (53% vs 41%), and to be severely injured as measured by the Injury Severity Score (12.5% vs5.4%) and the Glasgow Coma Scale (7.5% vs 3.4%).

Injuries are a substantial cause of ADHD-associated premature death.  This assertion comes from the work of Dalsgaard et al. (2015b)based on the same Danish registry discussed above.   In this second study, ADHD was associated with an increased risk for premature death and 53% of those deaths were due to injuries.  They reported the risk for premature death in three age groups: 1-5, 6-17, and >17.  For all three age groups, they found a greater risk for death in the ADHD group. For ages 6 to 17 and greater than 17. The ADHD-associated risk for mortality remained significant after excluding individuals with antisocial or substance use disorders.

There are currently no data about the effect of ADHD treatment on ADHD-associated premature death.  We do, however, know from the data reviewed above that ADHD treatment reduces injuries and that half the deaths in the ADHD group were due to injuries.  From this, we infer that ADHD treatments could reduce the risk of ADHD-associated premature death.

Two other ADHD-associated mobilities, obesity and cigarette smoking, have clear medical consequences.  In a meta-analysis of 42 cross-sectional studies comprising 48,161 people with ADHD and 679,975 controls, my colleagues and I reported that the pooled prevalence of obesity was increased by about 40% in ADHD children compared with non-ADHD children and by about 70% in ADHD adults compared with non-ADHD adults(Cortese et al.,2015). The association between ADHD and obesity was significant for ADHD medication-naïve subjects but not for those medicated for ADHD, which suggests that medication reduces the risk for obesity.  

Likewise, a meta-analysis of 27 longitudinal studies assessed the risk for several addictive disorders with sample sizes ranging from 4142 to 4175 for ADHD and 6835 to 6880 for non-ADHD controls (Lee et al., 2011).  Children with ADHD were at higher risk for disorders of abuse or dependence on nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and other unspecified substances.  Another meta-analysis (42 studies totaling, 2360 participants) showed that medications for ADHD reduced the ADHD-associated risk for smoking (Schoenfelder et al., 2014).   The authors concluded that, for ADHD patients, "Consistent stimulant treatment for ADHD may reduce the risk of smoking". This finding is especially notable given that, for ADHD youth, cigarette smoking is a gateway drug to more serious addictions (Biederman et al., 2006).

 Yes, ADHD is a serious disorder.  Although most ADHD people will be spared the worst of these outcomes, they must be considered by parents and patients when weighing the pros and cons of treatment options.

Bayar, H., Coskun, E., Oner, V., Gokcen,C., Aksoy, U., Okumus, S. & Erbagci, I. (2015). Association between penetrating eye injuries and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.Br J Ophthalmol99, 1109-11.
Biederman, J., Monuteaux, M., Mick, E., Wilens, T., Fontanella, J.,Poetzl, K. M., Kirk, T., Masse, J. & Faraone, S. V.
(2006). Is cigarette smoking a gateway drug to subsequent alcohol and illicit drug use disorders? A controlled study of youths with and without ADHD. Biol Psychiatry59, 258-64.
Cortese, S., Moreira-Maia, C. R., St Fleur, D., Morcillo-Penalver, C.,Rohde, L. A. & Faraone, S. V.
(2015). Association Between ADHD and Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Am J Psychiatry, appiajp201515020266.
Dalsgaard, S., Leckman, J. F., Mortensen, P. B., Nielsen, H. S. &Simonsen, M.
(2015a). Effect of drugs on the risk of injuries in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a prospective cohort study. Lancet Psychiatry2, 702-9.
Dalsgaard, S., Ostergaard, S. D., Leckman, J. F., Mortensen, P. B.& Pedersen, M. G.
(2015b). Mortality in children, adolescents, and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a nationwide cohortstudy. Lancet385, 2190-6.
DiScala, C., Lescohier, I., Barthel, M. & Li, G.
(1998).Injuries to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics102, 1415-21.
Faraone, S. V., Asherson, P., Banaschewski, T., Biederman, J.,Buitelaar, J. K., Ramos-Quiroga, J. A., Rohde, L. A., Sonuga-Barke, E. J. S.,Tannock, R. & Franke, B.
(2015). Attention deficit hyperactivitydisorder. In Nature Reviews: DiseasePrimers.
Fritz, K. M. & Butz, C.
(2007). Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and pediatric burn injury: important considerations regarding premorbid risk. Curr Opin Pediatr19, 565-9.
Hurtig, T., Ebeling, H., Jokelainen, J., Koivumaa-Honkanen, H. &Taanila, A.
(2013). The Association Between Hospital-Treated Injuries and ADHD Symptoms in Childhood and Adolescence: A Follow-Up Study in the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986. J Atten Disord.
Lee, S. S., Humphreys, K. L., Flory, K., Liu, R. & Glass, K.
(2011).Prospective association of childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder(ADHD) and substance use and abuse/dependence: a meta-analytic review. Clin Psychol Rev31, 328-41.
Sabuncuoglu, O.
(2007). Traumatic dental injuries and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: is there a link? Dent Traumatol23,137-42.
Schoenfelder, E. N., Faraone, S. V. & Kollins, S. H.
(2014).Stimulant treatment of ADHD and cigarette smoking: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics133, 1070-1080.

Related posts

No items found.

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