ADHD News & Research

ADHD Life Expectancy Study Shows Increased Risk of Early Death

ADHD and autism are associated with reduced life expectancies due to unnatural causes such as injury, poisoning, or suicide, according to a large new meta-analysis.

February 17, 2022

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face higher mortality risks than does the general population, according to a new meta-analysis published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.1 The study found that death in childhood or midlife from natural or unnatural causes was twice as likely for people with ADHD or autism, compared to the general population.

The systematic review and meta-analysis examined 27 studies published between 1988 and 2021, including data on more than 642,000 participants from North America and Europe. When causes of death were examined, ADHD and ASD were associated with higher mortality due to unnatural causes such as injury, poisoning, or suicide. Only people with ASD experienced reduced life expectancy due to natural causes of death.

“Most of the ADHD-related factors impacting life expectancy — impulsivity, risky behavior, and inattention, to name a few — are changeable,” says Russell Barkley, Ph.D., who lead a 2019 ADDitude webinar titled “How ADHD Shortens Life Expectancy.” “Behavioral programs designed to improve overall health will improve life expectancy as well, but only if ADHD symptoms are under control first. And that requires more accurate diagnosis and more thoughtful treatment.”2

Understanding the mechanisms of these associations may lead to targeted strategies to prevent avoidable deaths in high-risk groups of children and young people, the researchers suggest. Needed are future studies examining mortality-related health estimates in persons with ASD or ADHD that further explore distinct populations such as girls, people of color, and patients with additional comorbidities.

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1Catalá-López F, Hutton B, Page MJ, et al. (2022). Mortality in Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.6401

2Barkley, R. A., & Fischer, M. (2019). Hyperactive Child Syndrome and Estimated Life Expectancy at Young Adult Follow-Up: The Role of ADHD Persistence and Other Potential Predictors. Journal of attention disorders23(9), 907–923. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054718816164

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