Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and psychological comorbidity in eating disorder patients

Abstract

Purpose

There is some evidence that eating disorders (ED) and Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) share common clinical features and that ADHD might contribute to the severity of eating disorders. A greater understanding of how the presence of comorbid ADHD may affect the psychopathological framework of eating disorder seems of primary importance. The aim of our study was to evaluate rates of ADHD in three ED subgroups of inpatients: anorexia nervosa restricting type (AN-R), anorexia nervosa binge-eating/purging type (AN-BP) and bulimia nervosa (BN). The secondary aim was the evaluation of the associated psychological characteristics.

Method

The sample consisted of 73 females inpatients (mean age 28.07 ± 7.30), all with longstanding histories of eating disorder (ED). The presence of a diagnosis of ADHD was evaluated in a clinical interview based on DSM-IV-TR criteria. The following psychometric instruments were used: the eating attitude test (EAT-40), the Bulimic Investigatory Test, Edinburgh (BITE), the Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI-2), the Wender Utah Rating Scale (WURS), the Brown Attention Deficit Disorder Scale (BADDS), the Hamilton scales for Anxiety (HAM-A) and Depression (HAM-D), and the Barrat Impulsivity Scale (BIS-10).

Results

Among the three ED subgroups, 13 patients reported comorbidity with ADHD; three in the AN-R subtype, nine in the AN-BP and one in the BN. The remaining 60 patients (n = 34 AN-R; n = 19 AN-BP; n = 7 BN) presented only a diagnosis of ED. The EAT (p = 0.04) and HAM-A (p = 0.02) mean scores were significantly higher in patients with comorbid ADHD.

Conclusions

In our study the comorbidity between ADHD and ED appeared to be frequent, particularly among patients with AN-BP. ED inpatients with higher level of anxiety and more abnormal eating attitudes and bulimic symptoms should be assessed for potentially associated ADHD.

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Correspondence to L. Sala.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Sala, L., Martinotti, G., Carenti, M.L. et al. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and psychological comorbidity in eating disorder patients. Eat Weight Disord 23, 513–519 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-017-0395-8

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Keywords

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Eating disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder