Nationwide Population Study Finds No Harm from In Utero Exposure to ADHD Medication

Now that ADHD pharmaceuticals are among the most widely prescribed medications during pregnancy, we need to be aware of any long-term harms to offspring from in-utero exposure.

Denmark has a single-payer public health care system that encompasses virtually its entire population. Combined with national registers that track demographic as well as health data for the whole population, this makes it easy to do population-wide studies.

Availing itself of these registers, an international study team looked at all 1,068,073 single births from 1998 to 2015. It then followed all these individuals through the end of 2018, or until any developmental diagnosis, death, or emigration, whichever came first.

The team compared children of mothers who continued ADHD medication (methylphenidate, amphetamine, dexamphetamine, lisdexamphetamine, modafinil, atomoxetine, clonidine) during pregnancy with children of mothers who discontinued ADHD medication before pregnancy. There were 898 of the former and 1,270 of the latter in the cohort.

To reduce the influence of potential confounding variables, the team adjusted for maternal age, parity, maternal psychiatric history, in- or outpatient admission to psychiatric ward within two years prior to pregnancy and until delivery, use of other psychotropic medications during pregnancy, number of hospitalizations during pregnancy not related to psychiatry, smoking during pregnancy, living alone, education, birthyear, and psychiatric history of the father. 

Children exposed in utero to ADHD medication were found to be at no greater risk of any developmental impairment.

The timing of the exposure by trimester of pregnancy made no difference. Neither did the duration of exposure.

Neither children exposed to stimulant medications (methylphenidate, amphetamine, dexamphetamine, lisdexamphetamine, modafinil) nor to non-stimulants (atomoxetine, clonidine) were at greater risk of any developmental impairment

Focusing more narrowly on specific impairments, children exposed in utero to ADHD medication were no more likely to be autistic. They were more likely to have ADHD, but the association did not reach statistical significance.

Children exposed in utero to ADHD medication were also no more likely to develop hearing or cerebral vision impairment or febrile seizures or a growth impairment. Surprisingly, they were 40% less likely to become epileptic, the only statistically significant association found in the study.

The authors concluded, “Our results are important because stimulant medications are critical for many adults, including women of childbearing age, to perform their essential functions at work, home, and school. Pregnant women who depend on stimulants for daily functioning must weigh the potential of exposing their fetus to unknown developmental risks against potential medical, financial, and other consequences to both mother and child that are associated with exacerbation of ADHD symptoms when stopping the medication, such as inability to maintain employment and unsafe driving. The present study provides reassurance that several essential categories of child outcomes that could reasonably be suspected to be affected by stimulants, including body growth, neurodevelopment, and seizure risk, do not differ based on antenatal stimulant exposure. Future studies would benefit from larger sample sizes making it possible to conduct stratified analyses on ADHD medication type.”

Kathrine Bang Madsen, Thalia K. Robakis, Xiaoqin Liu, Natalie Momen, Henrik Larsson, Julie Werenberg Dreier, Helene Kildegaard, Jane Bjerg Groth, Jeffrey H. Newcorn, Per Hove Thomsen, Trine Munk-Olsen, and Veerle Bergink, “In utero exposure to ADHD medication and long-term offspring outcomes,” Molecular Psychiatry (2023), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-023-01992-6.

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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.

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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.

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