October 30, 2023

Methylphenidate is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality in youths with ADHD in a nationwide population cohort study

Youths with ADHD are at higher risk of suicide, burn injuries, road injuries, and more generally all-cause mortality than normally developing children. Methylphenidate (MPH) is known to be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. Can it also reduce the risk of all-cause mortality? A team of Taiwanese researchers, collaborating with two British researchers, explored that question by looking at a nationwide population cohort.

Taiwan has a single-payer national health insurance system that includes the entire population (99.6 percent coverage). Using the National Health Insurance Research Database (NHIRD), the team identified over 183,000 youths under 18 with an ADHD diagnosis. Of these, just over 68,000 had been prescribed to MPH. The team matched them with an equal number of ADHD youths who were not prescribed MPH. All records were anonymized and checked against the National Mortality Register.

All-cause mortality was split into two subcategories. Unnatural-cause mortality consisted of homicide, suicide, and motor vehicle fatalities. Natural-cause mortality encompassed all other premature deaths. In the raw data, ADHD youths on MPH had half the all-cause mortality of those not on MPH. Natural-cause mortality was down about 40 percent and unnatural-cause mortality was by almost two-thirds. In the non-MPH group, 32 committed suicide in the follow-up year, versus only a single individual in the MPH group. There were seven homicide victims in the non-MPH group, versus none at all in the MPH group.

These staggering reductions, however, were almost exclusively among males. The team then adjusted for potential confounding variables - gender, age, residence, insurance premium, out-patient visits, and pre-existing diagnoses. In the adjusted model, the risk for all-cause mortality was still reduced - by about 20 percent - for those on MPH and remained statistically significant. Virtually identical reductions were found for males and for children first diagnosed with ADHD between 4 and 7 years old. But all other risk estimates became statistically non-significant, due in large measure to the rarity of mortality events.

The authors concluded, "This is the first study reporting that a longer interval between first ADHD diagnosis and first prescription of MPH is associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality. In addition, we also found that participants receiving longer-duration MPH treatment had a lower risk of all-cause mortality. ... an implication is that receiving a diagnosis earlier and receiving medication earlier may reduce the risk of later adverse consequences."

They nevertheless cautioned, "although we adjusted for multiple covariant, information lacking in the database precluded the measurement of other possible confounders, such as family history, psychosocial stressors, the effect of behavioral therapy or severity of comorbidities. Therefore, as with all observational data, it is not possible to be conclusive about whether the association with lower mortality is related to an effect of MPH treatment itself or whether other characteristics of the children receiving MPH may account for the lower risk (i.e. confounding by indication).

Finally, although the cohort sizes were large, the number of deaths was small, and this limited statistical power, particularly for the investigation of cause-specific mortality and of subgroup differences. Because of the relatively low number of deaths and limited follow-up duration, longer-term studies with larger samples are warranted ..."

Vincent Chin-HungChen, Hsiang-Lin Chan, Shu-I Wu, Mong-Liang Lu, Michael E. Dewey, Robert Stewart, and Charles Tzu-Chi Lee, "Methylphenidate and mortality in children with the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a population-based cohort study," British Journal of psychiatry (2020), https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2020.129.

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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