June 20, 2024

Childhood General Anesthesia and Subsequent Diagnoses of ADHD

In December 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned “that repeated or lengthy use of general anesthetic and sedation drugs during surgeries or procedures in children younger than 3 years or in pregnant women during their third trimester may affect the development of children’s brains.” The FDA adds, “Health care professionals should balance the benefits of appropriate anesthesia against the potential risks, especially for procedures lasting longer than 3 hours or if multiple procedures are required in children under 3 years,” and “Studies in pregnant and young animals have shown that using these drugs for more than 3 hours caused widespread loss of brain nerve cells.”

That raises a concern that such exposure could lead to increased risk of psychiatric disorders, including ADHD.

Noting “There are inconsistent reports regarding the association between general anesthesia and adverse neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders in children,” a South Korean study team conducted a nationwide population study to explore possible associations through the country’s single-payer health insurance database that covers roughly 97% of all residents.

The team looked at the cohort of all children born in Korea between 2008 and 2009, and followed them until December 31, 2017. They identified 93,717 children in this cohort who during surgery received general anesthesia with endotracheal intubation (a tube inserted down the trachea), and matched them with an equal number of children who were not exposed to general anesthesia.

The team matched the unexposed group with the exposed group by age, sex, birth weight, residential area at birth, and economic status.

They then assessed both groups for subsequent diagnoses of ADHD.

In general, children exposed to general anesthesia were found to have a 40% greater risk of subsequently being diagnosed with ADHD than their unexposed peers.

This effect was found to be dose dependent by several measures:

  • Duration of surgery: two-to-three-hour surgeries were associated with a 50% greater risk of subsequent ADHD, and surgeries of more than three hours with a 60% greater risk.
  • Number of exposures: two exposures were associated with a 54% increased risk, and three or more exposures with a 67% greater risk.
  • Placement in an Intensive Care Unit was associated with a 60% greater risk of ADHD.

All three measures were highly significant.

The authors concluded, “exposure to general anesthesia with ETI [endotracheal intubation] in children is associated with an increased risk of ADHD … We must recognize the possible neurodevelopmental risk resulting from general anesthesia exposure, inform patients and parents regarding this risk, and emphasize the importance of close monitoring of mental health. However, the risk from anesthesia exposure is not superior to the importance of medical procedures. Specific research is needed for the development of safer anesthetic drugs and doses.”

Joo Young Song, Hye Ryeong Cha, Seung Won Lee, Eun Kyo Ha, Ju Hee Kim, and Man Yong Han, “Association Between Receipt of General Anesthesia During Childhood and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Neurodevelopment,” Journal of Korean Medical Science (2023), 38(6):e42, https://doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2023.38.e42.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “FDA Drug Safety Podcast: FDA review results in new warnings about using general anesthetics and sedation drugs in young children and pregnant women,” January 14, 2022, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/fda-drug-safety-podcasts/fda-drug-safety-podcast-fda-review-results-new-warnings-about-using-general-anesthetics-and-sedation.

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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