February 17, 2022

Nationwide cohort study indicates choice of maternal antiseizure medication during pregnancy has implications for offspring ADHD

Roughly five of every thousand women (0.5%) have epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Primary treatment consists of anti-seizure medications (ASMs).

Yet, research has shown that ASMs cross the human placenta. In rodents, ASMs have been shown to lead to abnormal neuronal development, and some research has pointed to the risk of adverse birth outcomes and neurodevelopmental disorders in humans. But samples have been too small for reliable conclusions, and in most cases confounding factors are not addressed.

For a more comprehensive evaluation of risk from ASMs, an international team of researchers examined a nationwide cohort using Swedish national registers that track health outcomes for virtually the entire population.

Using the Medical Birth Register, the National Patient Register, and the Multi-Generation Register, they were able to identify 14,614 children born from 1996-to 2011 to mothers with epilepsy.

Through the prescribed Drug Register, they also examined the first-trimester use of anti-seizure medications (ASMs) by these mothers. The three most frequently used ASMs "frequent enough to yield useful data“ were valproic acid, lamotrigine, and carbamazepine.

The researchers identified ADHD in offspring in one of two ways: ICD-10 (international classification of Diseases, 10th Revision) diagnoses, or filled prescriptions of ADHD medication.

Finally, they consulted the Integrated Database for Labor Market Research and the Education Register to explore potential confounding variables. These included maternal and paternal age at birth, the highest education, cohabitation status, and country of origin. They also included maternal and paternal disposable income in the year of birth and a measure of neighborhood deprivation.

Using the medical registers, they considered parental psychiatric and behavioral problems diagnosed before pregnancy, including bipolar disorder, suicide attempt, schizophrenia diagnosis, substance use disorder, and criminal convictions. They adjusted for inpatient diagnosis of seizures in the year before pregnancy to capture and adjust for indication severity.

Other covariates explored included year of birth, birth order, child sex, maternal-reported smoking during pregnancy, and use of other psychotropic medications.

After fully adjusting for all these confounders, children of mothers who were taking valproic acid were more than 70% more likely to develop ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy. The sample size was 699, and the 95% confidence interval stretched from 28% to 138% more likely to develop ADHD.

By contrast, children of mothers who were taking lamotrigine were at absolutely no greater risk(Hazard Ratio = 1) of developing ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy.

Finally, children of mothers who were taking carbamazepine were 18% more likely to develop ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy, but this result was not statistically significant (the 95% confidence interval ranged from 9% less likely to 52% more likely).

The authors concluded, "The present study did not find support for a causal association between maternal use of lamotrigine in pregnancy and ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] and ADHD in children. We observed an elevated risk of ASD and ADHD related to maternal use of valproic acid, while associations with carbamazepine were weak and not statistically significant. Although we could not rule out all potential confounding factors, our findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that certain ASMs (i.e., lamotrigine) may be safer than others in pregnancy."

Kelsey K. Wiggs, Martin E. Rickert, Ayesha C. Sujan, Patrick. Quinn, Henrik Larsson, Paul Lichtenstein, A. Sara Oberg, and Brian Onofrio, "Antiseizure medication use during pregnancy and risk of ASD and ADHD in children" Neurology(2020),95:e3232-e3240, published online,https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000010993.

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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