Purpose of review
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) frequently occurs with a wide variety of comorbid psychiatric disorders such as conduct disorder, depression, mania, anxiety, and learning disabilities. Because the vast majority of children with ADHD are treated in primary care settings, it is important that primary medical doctors be proficient in the diagnosis and initial treatment of children with ADHD and its commonly occurring comorbid disorders. ADHD research is beginning to focus on the treatment of these comorbidly ill children. This review will summarize the recent findings from the psychiatric literature in an attempt to provide the clinician with some initial diagnostic and treatment guidelines for ADHD and its comorbidities.
The NIMH Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD found that children with other disruptive behavior disorders plus ADHD respond well to stimulant medications, with behavioral interventions reducing academic and social impairment. Children with anxiety and ADHD are very responsive across multiple dimensions to behavioral and pharmacological ADHD treatments. Much less is known about the impact of depression on ADHD, and significant debate exists surrounding the identification and treatment of bipolar disorder in children with ADHD. Children with learning disabilities respond well to stimulants but often require additional educational supports. New findings suggest that treating ADHD may prevent the development of future psychiatric disorders.
The presence of comorbid illness is associated with significant additional morbidity and complicates the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of ADHD. Therefore, it is important to identify and treat any comorbid psychiatric conditions in a child with ADHD.