New Study Looks At ADHD In Adults

A new study published in the Journal of Psychological Medicine looked at associations between attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) genetic liability and ICD-10 medical conditions in adults.

“ADHD is a highly heritable common neurodevelopmental disorder, but often underdiagnosed in adults and, if left untreated, can cause several negative health concerns,” study Elis Haan told us. “We used data from more than 111,000 Estonian Biobank participants to investigate the associations between ADHD genetic liability and all medical diagnoses in the Health Insurance Fund database between 2004 to 2020,. Our aim was to determine which health problems are present in individuals who are not diagnosed with ADHD but whose ADHD symptoms may still lead to difficulties.” 

An ADHD diagnosis is closely linked with several psychiatric and somatic health conditions, such as depression, autism, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, Haan explained. However, we know less about the health problems in individuals with subclinical ADHD and/or with higher ADHD genetic risk. It has been previously shown that individuals with high genetic risk have five times higher odds of an ADHD diagnosis and are also more likely to exhibit ADHD-like traits (e.g. impulsivity and inattention). The researchers expected to find similar associations as those previously identified in studies  examining health risks in individuals with an ADHD diagnosis. 

“Although ADHD is a highly heritable and common mental health problem, its treatment with medication and psychotherapy is very effective and can reduce many adverse health outcomes across the lifespan,” Haan told us. “However, ADHD in adults is often underdiagnosed, and ADHD symptoms are unrecognized. Therefore, our aim was to raise awareness about the importance of better detection and timely management of ADHD symptoms, as this can help prevent many difficulties later in life.”  

In this study, the research team took the hypothesis-free approach and tested the associations with all ICD-10 codes from electronic health records. They did not preselect any specific medical diagnoses and were interested in seeing which associations emerged. 

The results demonstrated 80 medical diagnoses associated with an ADHD genetic risk, with the strongest associations observed for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, dorsalgia and polyarthrosis. The results were similar when the researchers compared the associations with an ADHD diagnosis. The results also showed that associations were similar in males and females, highlighting that there are no sex differences in the prevalence of ADHD-related diseases.  

“We were somewhat surprised that the associations between males and females were similar, although we know that ADHD is more often diagnosed in boys during childhood and in males during adulthood,” Haan told us. “This indicates that there are no sex differences regarding ADHD-related health conditions. However, most of our findings were in line with previous studies, highlighting that ADHD is associated with an increased risk for various health problems even in individuals without ADHD diagnosis but who may present some ADHD symptoms. » 

These results indicate that clinicians should pay more attention to the possibility of an ADHD diagnosis in certain health problems, Haan explained. Particular attention should be paid to girls and women, who often may receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, causing their ADHD to remain untreated. 

This further means that, due to the missed ADHD diagnosis, females may suffer from several health consequences later in life. Our results showed that the prevalence of ADHD-related diseases was similar in males and females.” 

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