October 16, 2021

Swedish nationwide population study explores links between ADHD and physical ailments

What are the links between ADHD and physical ailments in adults? And, where such links exist, how can we tease out where they are due to genetics, shared environment, or unshared environmental influences?

An international research team used the Swedish population and health registers to explore these links in an entire national population. They were able to do this because Sweden has a single-payer national health insurance system, cross-referenced with the population and other national registries through personal identification numbers.

This study identified full-sibling and maternal half-sibling pairs born from 1932 through 1995, through the Population and Multi-Generation Registers. This yielded a total of 4,789,799 individuals - consisting of 3,819,207 full-sibling pairs and 469,244 maternal half-sibling pairs, and 1,841,303family clusters (siblings, parents, cousins, spouses). Roughly half were men, the other half women.

After adjusting for sex and birth year, those with ADHD were at significantly higher risk of a wide range of physical ailments, when compared with individuals without ADHD:

·        Over four times as likely to have sleep disorders or develop alcohol-related liver disease;
·        Roughly three times as likely to develop the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, epilepsy, and fatty liver disease;

·        Over two and a half times more likely to become obese.

Overall, ADHD was significantly associated with 34 of the 35 physical diseases studied, rheumatoid arthritis being the only exception.

Comparing men with women, women with ADHD were at significantly greater risk of atrial fibrillation, urolithiasis, sleep disorders, and asthma than men with ADHD. Conversely, men with ADHD faced a greater risk of thyroid disorder than women with ADHD.

Between-sibling analyses showed that full siblings of individuals with ADHD were at significantly increased risk for 27 of the 35 physical ailments, suggesting that shared familial factors contributed to the co-occurrence of the conditions. This remained true even after adjusting for the occurrence of ADHD in full siblings.

These associations were generally reduced in maternal half-siblings of individuals with ADHD. The associations between full-siblings were significantly stronger than between maternal half-siblings for type 1 diabetes, obesity, kidney infections, back or spine pain, migraine, sleep disorders, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Keep in mind that full-siblings on average share half of their genes, whereas maternal half-siblings share only a quarter of their genes. Maternal (as opposed to paternal) half-siblings were chosen as a basis for comparison because they are typically brought up together in the same family setting, and thus are similar to full-siblings in having a shared family environment. Reduced risk in maternal half-siblings would therefore signal a genetic component to the risk.

Given that ADHD is itself a nervous system disorder, it is unsurprising that it correlated most strongly with other nervous system disorders, with a medium effect size (r=.23). Genetic factors explained over a quarter of the correlation, shared environmental factors over a seventh, and non-shared environmental factors the other three-fifths. The latter could point to environmental risk factors that influence both ADHD and nervous system diseases.

Small-to-medium correlations were found with metabolic, respiratory, and musculoskeletal disease groups, with genetic factors explaining roughly two-thirds of the correlation, and non-shared environmental factors most of the rest.

The authors concluded that "adults with ADHD are at increased risk of a range of physical conditions, across circulatory, metabolic, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, musculoskeletal, nervous system, respiratory, and skin diseases. Most physical conditions showed familial associations with ADHD (mainly from genetic factors). Our findings highlight the need for rigorous medical assessment and care in adult patients with ADHD, and suggest long-term consequences of age-related diseases."

Ebba Du Rietz, Isabell Brickell, AgnieszkaButwicka, Marica Leone, Zheng Chang, Samuele Cortese, Brian M D'Onofrio, Catharina A Hartman, Paul Lichtenstein, Stephen V Faraone, Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Henrik Larsson, "Mapping phenotypic and aetiological associations between ADHD and physical conditions in adulthood in Sweden: a genetically informed register study," Lancet Psychiatry (2021), vol. 8, issue 9, 774-783, published online, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(21)00171-1.

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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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