Who is the average patient with ADHD?

Is there an ‘average ADHD brain’? Our research group (from the Radboudumc in Nijmegen) shows that the average patient with ADHD does not exist biologically. These findings were recently published in the journal. Psychological Medicine.

Most biological psychiatry research heavily relies on so-called case-control comparisons. In this approach a group of patients with for instance ADHD is compared against a group of healthy individuals on a number of biological variables. If significant group effects are observed those are related to for instance the diagnosis ADHD. This often results in statements such as individuals with ADHD show differences in certain brain structures. While our results are in line with those earlier detected group effects, we clearly show that a simple comparison of these effects disguises individual differences between patients with the same mental disorder.

Modelling individual brains

In order to show this, we developed a technique called ‘normative modelling’ which allows us to map the brain of each individual patient against typical development. In this way we can see that individual differences in brain structure across individuals with ADHD are far greater than previously anticipated. In future, we hope that this approach provides important insights and sound evidence for an individualized approach to mental healthcare for ADHD and other mental disorders.

Individual differences in ADHD

When we studied the brain scans of individual patients, the differences between those were substantial. Only a few identical abnormalities in the brain occurred in more than two percent of patients. Marquand: “The brains of individuals with ADHD deviate so much from the average that the average has little to say about what might be occurring in the brain of an individual.”

Personalized diagnosis of ADHD

The research shows that almost every patient with ADHD has her or his own biological profile. The current method of making a diagnosis of psychiatric disorders based on symptoms is therefore not sufficient, the authors say: “Variation between patients is reflected in the brain, but despite this enormous variation all these people get the same diagnosis. Thus, we cannot achieve a better understanding of the biology behind ADHD by studying the average patient. We need to understand for each individual what the causes of a disorder may be. Insights based on research at group level say little about the individual patient.”

Re-conceptualize mental disorders

The researchers want to make a fingerprint of individual brains on the basis of differences in relation to the healthy range. Wolfers: “Psychiatrists and psychologists know very well that each patient is an individual with her or his own tale, history and biology. Nevertheless, we use diagnostic models that largely ignore these differences. Here, we raise this issue by showing that the average patient has limited informative value and by including biological, symptomatic and demographic information into our models. In future we hope that this kinds of models will help us to re-conceptualize mental disorders such as ADHD.”

Further reading

Wolfers, T., Beckmann, C.F., Hoogman, M., Buitelaar, J.K., Franke, B., Marquand, A.F. (2019). Individual differences v. the average patient: mapping the heterogeneity in ADHD using normative models. Psychological Medicine, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291719000084 .

This blog was written by Thomas Wolfers and Andre Marquand from the Radboudumc and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. On 15 March 2019 Thomas Wolfers will defend his doctoral thesis entitled ‘Towards precision medicine in psychiatry’ at the Radboud university in Nijmegen. You can find his thesis at http://www.thomaswolfers.com

German study first to show direct medical costs of ADHD and its comorbid conditions across the lifespan

Having ADHD is expensive. A study of German insurance data has shown that the medical costs of a person with ADHD are 1500 euro higher per year, compared to a person without ADHD. But that’s not all; individuals with ADHD are far more likely to suffer from additional conditions such as mood and anxiety problems, substance abuse or obesity. Treatment of these conditions can cost up to an additional 2800 euro per year. As ADHD – especially in adults – is still poorly recognised and diagnosed, these numbers may not reflect the complete picture of ADHD medical costs. Improving diagnosis and adult mental healthcare may prevent mental health problems later in life and actually reduce costs, argue Berit Libutzki and her co-authors.

ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder) is a developmental condition. Symptoms arise before the age of 12 and are characterised by age-inappropriate and impairing behaviour in terms of problems with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. World-wide prevalence of children with ADHD is estimated around 5%, while in adults this is around 2.5%. This means that in about half of the children problems do not subside with age. For these people, ADHD is a lifelong condition that often impairs health, career and social life.

To estimate the economical costs of ADHD, Berit Libutzki and her colleagues from HGC Healthcare Consultants GmbH analysed the (anonymised) health insurance data of almost four million Germans. They compared the medical costs of people with an ADHD diagnosis to those of a well-matched group without ADHD.

medical costs per person_figure

The results showed that the medical costs of a person with ADHD are on average 1508 euro higher than those of a person without ADHD. These costs are mainly due to treatments in hospitals and by psychiatrists. ADHD medication itself (such as Methylphenidate) are in third place, contributing to only 11% of the additional costs. Other interesting findings from the study are that medical costs are a bit higher in women compared to men, and that costs are much higher in individuals over 30 years old compared to younger age groups. After the age of 18, the costs of for example ADHD medication drop, while psychiatrist costs and costs for other (non-ADHD) medications increase notably. Also sick payment is high in adult ADHD patients, leading to a significant increase in costs. One of the explanations for these cost increases could be a gap in care after leaving the regular care of a paediatrician at age 18, and the development of disorders that arise in addition to ADHD.

medical costs increase_figure

ADHD plus additional (mental) health problems

It has been shown before that having ADHD puts you at a much higher risk of developing additional (comorbid) disorders. Mood disorders – such as depression – and anxiety are most frequent; in the German data two-thirds of ADHD individuals over 30 had such an additional diagnosis (compared to only a fifth of adults without ADHD). Substance abuse and obesity are more common in people with ADHD as well. These comorbidities should not be underestimated as they add strongly to the burden of disease. The study shows that substance abuse and morbid obesity are even the most costly, especially in adulthood. In total, the surplus costs associated with these conditions are 1420-2715 euro higher for ADHD individuals, compared to individuals who suffer from mood or anxiety disorder, substance abuse, or obesity alone.

comorbid disorders_figure

Scientists think that certain genetic factors that play a role in ADHD also make a person more vulnerable for these comorbid health conditions. Libutzki and her team are part of the European research consortium Comorbid Conditions of ADHD (CoCA) that investigates the shared biological mechanisms of ADHD and these additional disorders. “Through this research we hope to find leads to prevent these disorders from developing, and improve mental health care.”, says the leader of the CoCA consortium Prof. Dr. Andreas Reif of the University Hospital Frankfurt.

“It is intriguing to speculate that these comorbidities, which were shown to be the important cost drivers in adulthood, could be prevented if mental healthcare were provided more constantly over the lifespan” write the authors. “The prevention of the development of comorbidities with age should be the focus of mental health care. Early treatment starting in childhood and continued treatment of adolescents into adulthood seem therefore advisable.”

Improving diagnosis and adult mental health care

There is one caveat in the study by Libutzki, that is also acknowledged by the authors: many people, especially adults, are not diagnosed with ADHD, even though they experience the symptoms. “Our knowledge gap is especially large in adulthood”, says Dr. Catharina Hartman from the University Medical Centre Groningen, The Netherlands. “The prevalence of adult ADHD in the health insurance data was very low (0.2 %). Given that the population prevalence for adult ADHD is 2,5 %, this indicates that many adults with ADHD are currently not diagnosed or treated. They may nonetheless make high direct costs since their ADHD may not be recognised, or they make indirect costs through unemployment or criminality.” This would indicate that the costs reported by the study are underestimated. On the other hand, adults often find out about their ADHD only after consulting a psychiatrist for other mental health problems. This would indicate that estimated costs and prevalence of comorbid disorders with ADHD in adulthood are overestimated, compared to when you were to include also all undiagnosed people with ADHD, and diagnosed persons who do not make costs (i.e. milder cases of ADHD).

The study thus provides a partial view on the costs of ADHD during the lifespan. That said, it is among the first to show in detail the lifespan medical costs of ADHD and comorbid disorders in Germany. These findings are likely to be representative of other western-European countries. Policy makers in these countries are strongly advised to investigate ways to improve the transition from child to adult mental healthcare and increase awareness about adult ADHD. This will not only improve the quality of life of many adults but may also save money.

Further reading

Libutzki, Ludwig, May, Jacobsen, Reif and Hartman (2019). Direct medical costs of ADHD and its comorbid conditions on basis of claims data analysis.  European Psychiatry, 58: 38-44. https://www.europsy-journal.com/article/S0924-9338(19)30019-7/abstract

The findings from this study are also summarised in an infographic: https://my.visme.co/projects/1jok0qg8-medical-costs-adhd

MindChamp: Mindfulness for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting

Mindfulness for children with ADHD and their parents. Is that an alternative to medicine? Misha Beliën talks to Corina Greven about this question. She is project leader of MindChamp, an innovative study into the effectiveness of mindfulness as an addition to care-as-usual for ADHD.

Video originally posted on: http://www.bodhitv.nl

Beneficial effects of high-intensity exercise on the attentive brain

Physical exercise and the brain

Emerging evidence from research studies suggests that physical activity can improve attention, brain function and well-being. In an attempt to understand more about the beneficial effects of high-intensity exercise, we recently conducted a study on the effect of PHysical Activity on Brain function (PHAB study). We examined whether cycling at a high intensity for 20 minutes would improve brain-activity (electroencephalography; EEG) measures of attention and focus during computerised tasks. We also aimed to investigate whether some individuals, for example those who are physically fit, would benefit more or less from exercise.

PHAb setup2

Does high-intensity exercise improve attention?

Participants (young adult men) were invited to our research centre, where they completed computer tasks while we recorded their brain activity. In the first task, they were asked to respond to letter ‘X’ following an ‘O’, but not to respond if another letter was presented after an ‘O’. Participants performed the task both before and after exercise and rest, and so we were able to test if their brain activity changed after exercise.

Task

We found that an attention measure called the “P3” was enhanced after exercise but not after rest. This suggests that the intense exercise session led to improvements in their attention. These improvements in attention from exercise were equal across participants, regardless of how physically fit they were.

The participants also performed two subsequent computer tasks, but we did not find improvements after exercise in these tasks. We believe that the beneficial effects of exercise may have worn off by the time that they performed these tasks.

These results suggest that intense exercise may improve attention. Exercise may therefore be beneficial for individuals with impairing levels of inattentive and restless behaviours, such as ADHD. This is currently being tested in the clinical trial CoCA (https://mind-the-gap.live/2018/10/09/10-weeks-of-physical-exercise-or-light-therapy/) (https://mind-the-gap.live/2017/02/18/coca-proud-trial-ready-to-roll/).

Read more about our study results at:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432818308490

If you have any questions

Please feel free to contact Professor Jonna Kuntsi (jonna.kuntsi@kcl.ac.uk). The project was supported by a Medical Research Council studentship to Ebba Du Rietz.

Phelps

 

Ebba Du Rietz and Jonna Kuntsi

ADHD at childhood and the risk of obesity later in life

file

Really?

Having ADHD at childhood could increase the obesity risk later in life? Oddly enough, YES. There is increasing knowledge of scientific evidence about a positive link between this mental disorder and the risk of weight gain throughout life.

Is there any explanation for this relationship?

So, being hyperactive as a child can make that child to accumulate more body fat in the future? this is quite ambiguous. Let’s enlighten this matter. The ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. The factors contributing to the comorbidity between ADHD and obesity are supposed to be a genetic influence, fetal programming, executive dysfunctions, psychosocial stress, sleep patterns alterations, and factors directly related to energy balance (Hanć & Cortese, 2018). Among the last ones, it can be hypothesized that four inter-related mechanisms could partly explain why an ADHD brain is hard-wired for weight gain. These are low levels of physical activity, low physical fitness, sedentary behaviors, and overeating. Thus, individuals diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to do a less physical activity, to have a low fitness level, be more sedentary and eat more than they need than people without this disorder.

ADHD at childhood as a predictor of obesity across the life course

ADHD individuals have more complications to lead a healthy lifestyle in comparison with non-ADHD due to psychological dysfunctions. In addition, obesogenic factors are likely to accumulate over the life course of individuals. Collectively, children having ADHD and with an unhealthy lifestyle might become chronic, resulting in the development or maintenance of obesity later in life.

So, what can a child with ADHD do to avoid or reduce the risk of obesity in the future?

Youth aged between 6-17 years old can do a more physical activity, diminish sedentary behavior and eat healthier to avoid obesity later in life. Regarding physical activity guidelines, youth should perform 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily, as part of this they should do moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening activities and bone strengthening exercises at least 3 days per week. Also, sedentary behavior in youth should be limited <2 hours per day, and fruits and vegetables are recommended daily.

Take home message

Exercise your brain while your body!

References

Hanć, T., & Cortese, S. (2018). Attention deficit/hyperactivity-disorder and obesity: A review and model of current hypotheses explaining their comorbidity. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 92, 16–28.

Adrià Muntaner-Mas, Antonio Martinez-Nicolas and Francisco B. Ortega 

http://profith.ugr.es/

ADHD and obesity in adolescence and early adulthood

Have you ever heard of that people with ADHD are more likely to be obese than those without? This has been supported by two separately conducted meta-analyses in 2016,1,2 where the researchers combined results from previous independent studies using a statistical technique to provide more precise estimates.

In most studies to date, obesity was defined solely by body mass index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2, based on the World Health Organization classification. In our recent study (published on Psychological Medicine),3 we attempted to revisit the association between ADHD and obesity in 2.5 million individuals identified from the Swedish national registers. Both ADHD and obesity were assessed via clinical diagnosis. We speculate that clinically diagnosed obesity may better reflect the pathological aspect of body fat deposition. Not surprisingly, we observed that people with ADHD were more likely than those without to receive a clinical diagnosis of ADHD during their adolescence and young adulthood.

ADHD_OBESITY

Genetic alterations common to both ADHD and obesity have been proposed as one of the plausible mechanisms underlying the association. To test this hypothesis, we conducted analysis in the relatives of the 2.5 million individuals. We compared the relatives of those affected by ADHD with the relatives of those unaffected. Here come the findings: first, relatives of individuals with ADHD were at higher risk for obesity diagnosis; second, the association was stronger in full siblings than in half siblings or full cousins; third, the association did not differ much between maternal half siblings and paternal half siblings. The first and the second findings just confirm that ADHD and obesity may run together in families, while the third one actually suggests that such familial co-aggregation is primarily due to the genetic sharing between family members. Here is the reason behind: the degree of genetic sharing between maternal half siblings is similar to that between paternal half siblings, whereas the maternal half siblings in our study were likely to share more of environmental factors than the paternal half siblings. This is because that children tend to live with their mothers following parental separation during the study period in Sweden. Nonetheless, the difference in environmental sharing did not seem to make the association stronger in maternal half siblings than in paternal half siblings.

More evidence for the genetic influence on the association is from our subsequent quantitative genetic analysis. The method is commonly applied to data from identical and fraternal twins to estimate the relative genetic and environmental contributions to the covariance between two traits. We applied the method to data from full and half siblings instead and found that the covariance between ADHD and obesity could be predominantly attributed to genetic factors. Environmental factors seem to play only a limited role in the covariance.

Since ADHD predicts obesity in adolescence and young adulthood, it might be a good idea to monitor children with ADHD for weight gain. Interventions, such as organized physical activity, tailored to those on a suboptimal trajectory might help prevent obesity later in life.  Hopefully, clinically actionable genetic variants can be discovered and benefit people suffering from both conditions.

Dr. Qi Chen is a research coordinator in the department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet. Her research is supported by the CoCA project.

References

1          Cortese S, Moreira-Maia CR, St Fleur D, Morcillo-Penalver C, Rohde LA, Faraone SV. Association Between ADHD and Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Am J Psychiatry 2016; 173: 34-43.

2          Nigg JT, Johnstone JM, Musser ED, Long HG, Willoughby M, Shannon J. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and being overweight/obesity: New data and meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review 2016; 43: 67-79.

3          Chen Q, Hartman CA, Kuja-Halkola R, Faraone SV, Almqvist C, Larsson H. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and clinically diagnosed obesity in adolescence and young adulthood: a register-based study in Sweden. Psychol Med 2018 Sep 17: 1-9.

ADHD Awareness month: Interview with a Participant

This month is the ADHD awareness month and we wanted to share with you an interview with one of the PROUD participants (CoCA project, Comorbid Conditions of ADHD).

The participant is a 21-year old male college student who is originally from Peru but has been living in Barcelona for a few years. He participated and did the exercise intervention of the PROUD Study.

backlit-city-cityscape-1466852

  1. What is it like to live with ADHD?

Please describe your main symptoms. Have your symptoms changed since childhood vs. adulthood?

When I was an adolescent, my main symptoms were low concentration capacity and hyperactivity (I could not sit for a long time). I was always bored and doing too many things at the same time. I was very impulsive as well and I had problems with my family and friends because I meddled in their activities and conversations.

Now I am 21 years old and I notice I have less hyperactivity and I can control more my impulsivity. On the other hand, my concentration is still bad and I need external help in order to improve it (pharmacology).

When were you diagnosed with ADHD? By whom? How did you feel about getting the diagnosis?

When I was 11 years old, I had very many academic difficulties and the school Psychologist noticed some ADHD symptoms in me. So, she sent me to a specialized psychology center and I was diagnosed with ADHD. This was in Perú, my country, but here in Spain I repeated some tests and I was diagnosed again and the psychologist confirmed the diagnosis.

At that time, I felt like the most weird kid in my class because I had to spend  some hours with the School psychologist and do some separate activities from the other children. My classmates asked me all the time where I was going and this bothered me.

How have you been treated (medication/ psychotherapy)? What are the effects?

When I was in Perú, I remember my parents gave me a syrup (I don’t remember the name) and my teachers were worried because they said I didn’t move from my chair in all day long, like I was sedated. My parents worried as well, and stopped giving it to me.

Then when I was older, in Spain, my brother told me I was very disorganized and I didn’t use the time well (referring to my studies). So I went to a different doctor and I started with ADHD medication.

The main effects I notice are irritability, low mood, less spontaneity and the fact that I prefer to be alone because I have a lot of concentration.

How does ADHD influence your life? (Work, friends/partnership, hobbies etc.)

When I was kid it was more difficult because I wanted to be like the other kids and be treated like a “normal” kid at school. I am competitive and I wanted to achieve the same goals as the other kids.

Regarding the friendships, it depends because there are times I want to be with friends and there are times I prefer to be alone. Some friends have been angry with me because I didn’t pay attention to them for a long time.

Do your friends/ colleagues know about your illness?

I mentioned the ADHD to a few friends and classmates because they didn’t understand some things about my behavior, my mood changes, etc. Sometimes I think people think I am dumb or something when I explain to them about the ADHD. That’s because it is difficult to me to talk about my disease.

What is the worst thing about having ADHD?

The worst thing about having ADHD is that people have a lot of prejudices about it and have a lot of incorrect thoughts about what it means. Some people told me that I will become a drug addict because I was taking pills for ADHD, they always think I don’t need the pharmacology. People usually treat me like a lazy person but I am not lazy, I just have low concentration capacity.

Sometimes, I believe that I won’t be able to achieve my objectives, I feel like I am not good for anything, and this is the saddest part about ADHD for me.

Do you think ADHD has any positive influences in your life?

I think so. I have had to be creative and follow my own strategies. I have been alone (without any friends) sometimes but this has made me stronger. And the most important thing, I know I have difficulties because of ADHD but I have learned to be a tenacious person and never give up.

  1. Study and Intervention

How did you learn about the study?

My psychiatrist from Vall d’Hebron told me about the study.

What motivated you to participate?

What motivated me the most is that if I participate in this kind of study, it could help the professionals to investigate and improve the ADHD treatments.

What were your expectations about the study before you started?

I wanted to learn more about this illness so I thought this study could help me too.

What intervention did you participate in? When?

I did the Exercise condition. I started 5 months ago more or less.

What did you like about the intervention? What did you dislike about the intervention?

I really liked the fact that I had a continuous monitoring and regular visits. Furthermore, the psychologist J.P. helped me a lot to understand all the devices I had to use and was very patient with me. She also helped me with more ADHD issues and gave me good advice.

On the other hand, what I didn’t like was the sensor I had to wear all the time because it was very big and uncomfortable.

Was the intervention helpful? (Any effects on ADHD core symptoms, mood, sleep, weight, fitness etc.?)  

I think the intervention was helpful for improving my physical condition and I was more tired so it helped me to sleep better. I also understood that my emotions and mood are important and that I have to take care of my mental health.

Was it difficult/easy to use the App?

It was easy to use the App but sometimes I had doubts about the sensor, because I didn’t know if it was synchronized with the smartphone or not.

Would you recommend other people with ADHD to participate in the study? Why?

Yes, I would recommend it, because it is important to investigate and you can learn more about the symptoms and adverse events of ADHD.

 Any suggestions/ways that the researchers could improve the experience for people in this study?

I would just change the sensor or the fact that you have to wear it all the time. I was embarrassed and it was very big.

 

 

Are you interested in participating, or do you want more information?

The trial will be continued until 2020. All outpatients with ADHD aged 14 to 45 years old living in and around Barcelona, Frankfurt, London or Nijmegen are invited to participate in the trial.

Contact:

Barcelona: judit.palacio@vhir.org

Frankfurt: Proud-Studie@kgu.de

London: adam.1.pawley@kcl.ac.uk

Nijmegen: proud@karakter.com

More information about the trial can be found on the CoCA website: http://coca-project.eu/coca-phase-iia-trial/study/