May 13, 2021

MYTHS ABOUT THE DIAGNOSIS OF ADHD

Myth: The ADHD diagnosis is very much "in the eye of the beholder."
This is one of many ways in which the ADHD diagnosis has been ridiculed in the popular media. The idea here is that because we cannot diagnose ADHD with an objective brain scan or a blood test, the diagnosis is "subjective" and subject to the whim and fancy of the doctor making the diagnosis.

Fact:  The ADHD diagnosis is reliable and valid.
The usefulness of a diagnosis does not depend on whether it came from a blood test, a brain test, or from talking to a patient. A test is useful if it is reliable, which means that two doctors can agree on who does and does not have the disorder, and if it is valid, which means that the diagnosis predicts something important to the doctor and patient, such as whether the patient will respond to a specific treatment. Many research studies show that doctors usually agree about who does and does not have ADHD. This is because we have very strict rules that one must use to make a diagnosis. Much work over many decades has also shown ADHD to be a valid diagnosis. For details see: Faraone, S. V. (2005). The scientific foundation for understanding attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as a valid psychiatric disorder. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 14, 1-10. The short story is that the diagnosis of ADHD is very useful for predicting what treatments will be effective and what types of problems ADHD patients are likely to experience in the future.

Myth: ADHD is not a medical disorder.  It's just the extreme of normal childhood energy
Mental health professionals use the term "disorder" to describe ADHD, but others argue that what we view as a disorder named ADHD is simply the extreme of normal childhood energy. After all, most healthy children run around and don't always listen to their parents. Doesn't the ADHD child or adult simply have a higher dose of normal behavior?

Fact: Doctors have good reasons to describe ADHD as a disorder
The idea that the extreme of normal behavior cannot be a disorder is naïve. Consider hypertension(high blood pressure). Everyone has blood pressure, but when blood pressure exceeds a certain value, doctors get worried because people with high values are at risk for serious problems, such as heart attacks. Consider depression. Everyone gets sad from time to time, but people who are diagnosed with depression cannot function in normal activities and, in the extreme, are at risk of killing themselves. ADHD is not much different from hypertension or depression. Many people will show some signs of ADHD at some times, but not all have a "disorder." We call ADHD a disorder not only because the patient has many symptoms, but also because that patient is impaired, which means that they cannot carry out normal life activities. For example, the ADHD child cannot attend to homework or the ADHD adult cannot hold a job, despite adequate levels of intelligence. Like hypertension, untreated ADHD can lead to serious problems such as failing in school, accidents, or an inability to maintain friendships. These problems are so severe that the center for Disease Control described ADHD as  "serious public health problem."

Myth: The ADHD diagnosis was developed to justify the use of drugs to subdue the behaviors of children.
This is one of the more bizarre myths about ADHD. The theory here is that to sell more drugs, pharmaceutical companies invented the diagnosis of ADHD to describe normal children who were causing some problems in the past.

Fact: ADHD was discovered by doctors long before ADHD medications were discovered.
People who believe this myth do not know the history of ADHD. In 1798, long before there were any drugs for ADHD, Alexander Crichton, a Scottish doctor, described a "disease of attention," which we would not call ADHD.ADHD symptoms were described by a German doctor, Heinrich Hoffman, in1845 and by a British doctor, George Still, in 1902. Each of these doctors found that inattentive and overactive behaviors could lead to a problem that should be of concern to doctors. If they had had medications to treat ADHD, they probably would have prescribed them to their patients. But a medication for ADHD was not discovered until 1937 and even then, it was discovered by accident. Dr. Charles Bradley from Providence, Rhode Island had been doing brain scanning studies of troubled children in a hospital school. The scans left the children with headaches that Dr. Bradley thought would be relieved by an amphetamine drug. When he gave this drug to the children after the scan, it did not help their headaches. However, the next day, their teachers reported that the children were attending and behaving much better in the classroom. Dr. Bradley had accidentally discovered that amphetamine was very helpful in reducing ADHD symptoms, and amphetamine drugs are commonly used to treat ADHD today. So, as you can see, the diagnosis of ADHD was not "invented" by anyone; it was discovered by doctors long before drugs for ADHD were known.

Myth: Brain scans or computerized tests of brain function can diagnose ADHD.
Someday, this myth may become fact, but for now, and shortly it is a solid myth. You may think this is strange. After all, we know that ADHD is a brain disorder and that neuroimaging studies have documented structural and functional abnormalities in the brains of patients with ADHD. If ADHD is a biological disorder, why don’t we have a biological test for the diagnosis?

Fact:  No brain test has been shown to accurately diagnose ADHD.
ADHD is a biologically based disorder, but there are many biological changes and each of these is so small that they are not useful as diagnostic tests. We also think that there are several biological pathways to ADHD. That means that not all ADHD patients will show the same underlying biological problems. So for now, the only officially approved method of diagnosing ADHD is by asking patients and/or their parents about ADHD symptoms as described in the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual

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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