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A Systematic Review of Rates and Diagnostic Validity of Comorbid Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Bipolar Disorder

Aliza P. Wingo, M.D., and S. Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., M.P.H.

Objective: Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is increasingly recognized and reported to frequently coexist with bipolar disorder. Concurrent diagnosis of adult ADHD and bipolar disorder remains controversial. In this study, we conducted a systematic review to examine the rates and diagnostic validity of the concept of comorbid adult ADHD and bipolar disorder.

Data Sources: MEDLINE, Embase, PsycInfo, and Cochrane databases were searched for articles published before March 30, 2007, using the keywords manic, bipolar, attention deficit hyperactivity, and adult. The computer search was supplemented with bibliographic cross-referencing.

Study Selection: Exclusion criteria were studies with only pediatric subjects, childhood ADHD only but not adult ADHD, and either bipolar disorder or ADHD only, but not both; review articles, case reports; letters to the editor; and book chapters. Of the 262 citations found, 12 studies met our inclusion criteria.

Data Extraction: Specific diagnostic validating criteria examined were phenomenology, course of illness, heredity, biological markers, and treatment response. There were 6 studies on comorbid rates, 4 on phenomenology, 3 on course of illness, 2 on heredity, none on biological markers, and 1 on treatment response.

Data Synthesis: The proposed comorbid syndrome is fairly common (present in up to 47% of adult ADHD and 21% of bipolar disorder populations), with a more severe course of illness compared with that of bipolar disorder alone, and high rates of comorbidity with other psychiatric disorders. Its treatment appears to require initial mood stabilization.

Conclusions: Comorbid adult ADHD and bipolar disorder has been insufficiently studied, with more emphasis on comorbidity rates and few data on course, neurobiology, heredity, and treatment. The diagnostic validity of adult ADHD/bipolar disorder as a true comorbidity is not well-established on the basis of this equivocal and insufficient literature. More studies are greatly needed to further clarify its diagnostic validity and treatment approach.

(J Clin Psychiatry 2007;68:1776-1784)

Received May 2, 2007; accepted Aug. 7, 2007. From the Bipolar Disorder Research Program, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.

Supported in part by National Institutes of Health grant MH-64189 (Dr. Ghaemi).

Dr. Ghaemi currently receives research grants from GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer; currently serves on the speakers' bureaus of GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Abbott; and has served on the advisory boards of GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Pfizer, Shire, and Abbott. Neither he nor his family holds equity positions in pharmaceutical corporations. Dr. Wingo reports no disclosures of potential conflicts of interest.

Corresponding author and reprints: Aliza P. Wingo, M.D., Emory University, Department of Psychiatry, Tufts House, Suite 218, 2004 Ridgewood Dr., Atlanta, GA 30322 (e-mail: