Although most are familiar with the common signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD (also called ADD)—including a short attention span, poor impulse control, hyperactivity, and challenges with staying organized—there is generally less awareness about potential physical conditions that can co-occur.
ADHD is often linked to psychiatric disorders, such as depression, and behavioral concerns like substance abuse, but there is also a greater risk surrounding dozens of physical consequences, which can range from weight gain to increased likelihood of traumatic brain injuries.
In a Swedish study published in The Lancet in 2021, researchers examined ADHD and its correlation with 35 physical conditions, split up into eight categories: circulatory, endocrine or metabolic, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, musculoskeletal, nervous system, respiratory, and skin. Surprisingly, of the 35 conditions studied, ADHD increased the risk of 34 of them.
With an overall prevalence of adult ADHD at 4.4%, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, it’s important to understand these risks—and for those with ADHD to take steps toward improving their health to help prevent or treat these issues.
PHYSICAL CONDITIONS RELATED TO ADHD
Researchers provided a breakdown of the physical conditions the Swedish study analyzed, utilizing millions of patient records over more than 6 decades. The circulatory category included hypertension, ischemic heart disease (heart problems associated with narrowed arteries), pulmonary disease, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Endocrine/metabolic conditions were type 1 and 2 diabetes, thyroid disorders, obesity, and gout. Gastrointestinal conditions were celiac disease, ulcer or chronic gastritis, acute appendicitis, fatty liver disease, alcohol-related liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and gallstone disease.
Under the umbrella of genitourinary were glomerular disease (which affects kidney function), urolithiasis (stones that enter the urinary system), and kidney infections.
Musculoskeletal conditions were rheumatoid arthritis, arthrosis (also called osteoarthritis), connective tissue disease, and dorsalgia (back pain). In the nervous system category, researchers looked at Parkinson’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, migraine, and sleep disorders, while respiratory covered asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the skin conditions studied were eczema and psoriasis.
In this comprehensive study, the researchers found that those with ADHD “had significantly increased risk of all physical conditions except rheumatoid arthritis…compared with individuals without ADHD.” Among the different types of conditions, the strongest ADHD correlations were found with the following:
- Alcohol-related liver disease
- Sleep disorders
- Fatty liver disease
Before this series of findings, other researchers had discovered similar links between ADHD and physical ailments. A 2017 study performed in Germany on ADHD-affected children from 5 to 14 years old showed that they were more at risk for a host of physical conditions: metabolic disorders, kidney failure, hypertension, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, migraine, asthma, atopic dermatitis, juvenile arthritis, and glaucoma, to name a few. And another 2020 study in Scientific Reports on the association between ADHD and physical health suggested that those with ADHD “are susceptible to neurological problems” as well as digestive issues, potentially due to the role of the gut-brain axis in ADHD symptoms.
HOW TO IMPROVE HEALTH WITH ADHD
Unfortunately, several hallmark signs of ADHD can hamper the practice of engaging in ongoing healthcare, which is especially necessary for this population. For example, because people with ADHD have a tendency to procrastinate, they may put off doctor visits instead of being proactive and scheduling appointments. Poor impulse control can lead to consequences like unhealthy dietary choices or sexually transmitted infections. Lack of organization and/or follow-through can interfere with adhering to medication schedules, following medical advice, or attending necessary subsequent checkups.
Furthermore, with different types of ADD, not everyone experiences the same symptoms, so it’s important to narrow down how ADHD affects you—or your loved one—to enact the best health-promoting regimen.
Because such an array of physical health conditions are more likely to develop in people with ADHD, regular health checks are especially important. Lifestyle choices—including a healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting screen time, and avoiding stimulants like nicotine and caffeine—can also improve feelings of well-being and will accumulate to create positive effects over the long haul.
After all, researchers have examined the link between ADHD and environmental factors, such as food additives like artificial dyes, the typical Western diet, mineral deficiencies, and even video game and TV exposure, any of which can also make their own contributions to a host of health issues.
Though ADHD presents plenty of psychological challenges that can make everyday routines more challenging, the physical conditions that can crop up—and may go unchecked—are just as serious. Studies have shown that those with ADHD have a lower life expectancy and are more than twice as likely to die early as those without the disorder, both due to accidents and co-existing health conditions. But by remaining a proactive participant in your own healthcare, you can help stave off the dozens of physical effects that are possible accompaniments to this complex condition.
Yours in Health
Prof Sundardas D Annamalay
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