A Surprising Possible Risk of ADHD

ADHD patients may be more likely to die prematurely, particularly due to accidents

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) ADHD is known to be tied to difficulties in school and trouble focusing, but something much more serious might also be tied to the condition.

A new study found an increase in the risk of early death, mostly due to accidents, among people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"... Adults with ADHD are at increased risk of serious traffic accidents," explained the authors of this study, led by Søren Dalsgaard, PhD, of the National Centre for Register-Based Research at Aarhus University in Denmark. "ADHD is also associated with substance use disorder, criminality, and development of more severe mental disorders, which might affect life expectancy."

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders and can also involve problems with attention, focus and controlling behavior.

Dr. Dalsgaard and team wanted to explore how ADHD might affect life expectancy. To do so, they utilized Danish registers starting in 1981 to follow 1.92 million people from their first birthday until 2013. These patients were followed for a maximum of 32 years. Of these patients, more than 32,000 had ADHD.

More than 5,500 of these patients died during the time they were followed, including 107 with ADHD. The most common overall cause of death was accidents.

Dr. Dalsgaard and team found that people with ADHD had a mortality rate of 5.85 deaths per 10,000 person-years, while that figure for those without ADHD was 2.21.

These researchers found that the risk of an early death seemed to increase with the age at which the patient was diagnosed with ADHD. Those who were diagnosed at age 18 or older had a significantly higher risk of death than those diagnosed at a younger age.

Risk was higher among women and girls with ADHD than it was among men and boys with the condition, Dr. Dalsgaard and team found.

Despite these alarming findings, Dr. Dalsgaard and team stressed that the overall risk of death was still very low — even among ADHD patients.

These researchers also noted that diagnosing ADHD in Denmark is often a different, "more restrictive" process than it is in the US. Because of this, the ADHD cases identified in the study might be more severe than many diagnosed in the US.

"These results emphasize the importance of early identification of ADHD; and more research on factors that can improve life expectancy in this vulnerable group of patients is much needed," Dr. Dalsgaard and team wrote.

In an editorial about this study, Stephen V. Faraone, PhD, of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, suggested that ADHD symptoms like problems with attention and impulsive behavior might put these patients at a greater risk for accidents.

“Although talk of premature death will worry parents and patients, they can seek solace in the knowledge that the absolute risk for premature death is low and that this and other risks can be greatly reduced with evidenced-based treatments for the disorder,” Dr. Faraone wrote.

Dr. Faraone continued, "Policy makers should take heed of these data and allocate a fair share of health care and research resources to people with ADHD. For clinicians, early identification and treatment should become the rule rather than the exception."

The study and editorial were published Feb. 26 in The Lancet.

The Lundbeck Foundation, a division of the Lundbeck pharmaceutical company, funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 25, 2015
Last Updated:
February 27, 2015