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Comorbidity of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder With Psychiatric Disorder: An Overview

Steven R. Pliszka, M.D.

Published: July 1, 1998

Article Abstract

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been noted to be comorbid with a variety ofpsychiatric disorders. These include oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, as well as affective,anxiety, and learning disorders. Considerable debate has revolved as to the meaning of this overlap.Does it occur by chance or is it an artifact of referral bias? Are the comorbid conditions secondary tothe ADHD, or can other psychiatric disorders masquerade as attentional problems? Alternatively,ADHD may exist as distinct subtypes, each with its specific comorbidity. Studies that have examinedthe comorbidity of oppositional, conduct, affective, anxiety, and learning disorders in ADHD are reviewed.ADHD and ADHD with conduct disorder appear to be distinct subtypes, possibly with differentetiologies. While the short-term response to stimulants is the same in these two groups, childrenwith ADHD and conduct disorder children have higher rates of antisocial personality as adults. Coexistinganxiety appears to attenuate impulsivity in ADHD, and stimulant response is poorer in ADHDchildren with comorbid anxiety. Anxiety and ADHD appear to be inherited independently. A subset ofADHD children also meet criteria for bipolar disorder, although the exact prevalence of this diagnosisin ADHD children is strongly debated. Regardless of prevalence, this is a severely impaired group ofADHD children, with high rates of aggression and psychiatric disorder in their families. The comorbidityof ADHD and major depression is much less studied, and few firm conclusions can be madeabout it. Finally, about 20%-25% of ADHD children meet criteria for a learning disorder, but learningdisorders appear to be independent of ADHD.

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Volume: 59

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