Study: Unmedicated ADHD Increases the Risk of Contracting COVID-19
The COVID-19 infection rate is nearly 50% higher among individuals with unmedicated ADHD compared to individuals without ADHD, according to a new study of 14,022 patients in Israel. The study found that ADHD treatment with stimulant medication significantly reduces the risk of virus exposure among individuals with ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity.
July 23, 2020
Does attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) increase a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19? Yes, if the ADHD is unmedicated. This finding comes from a new study that shows a correlation between untreated ADHD and a higher-than-average likelihood of contracting the illness.
The study, published this week in the Journal of Attention Disorders1 by a group of Israeli researchers, found that individuals with ADHD alone are about 52% more likely to have tested positive for COVID-19 compared to those without ADHD.
However, individuals with ADHD who treat their symptoms with stimulant medication face virtually no additional risk for COVID-19 compared to non-ADHD subjects. The infection rate among individuals with treated ADHD and among the non-ADHD population was the same — roughly 10%. Individuals with ADHD who do not use medication, on the other hand, saw a COVID infection rate of nearly 15% — 54% higher than the non-ADHD average.
The study analyzed health insurance database records, including COVID-19 testing and other medical diagnosis history, of more than 14,000 patients (aged 2 months to 103 years) over a two-month period ending in April. About 1,400 participants, or 10% of the total cohort, had tested positive at least once for COVID-19 in that period. Individuals diagnosed with ADHD totaled 1,699, or 12% of the total group studied.
In the cohort with ADHD, 230 individuals had tested positive at least once for COVID-19. The ADHD cohort comprised 12% of the total population studied but 16% of positive COVID-19 results.
About a quarter of those diagnosed with ADHD were also taking medication, with stimulants as the most popular prescription. (ADHD individuals were considered medically treated if they purchased at least three consecutive prescriptions in the last year.) Among those patients taking ADHD medication, only 43 tested positive for COVID-19; this comprised 3% of all positive results for the illness and represented a 10% infection rate. Among those patients with ADHD not taking medication, 187 individuals tested positive for COVID-19 — a 14.59% infection rate. Though unmedicated ADHD patients comprised just 9% of the total study population, they accounted for 13% of all positive tests.
The results matched the scientists’ hypothesis that the rate of ADHD among individuals with COVID-19 would be significantly higher compared to the general population, and that ADHD medication could moderate rates of infection.
The scientists posit that ADHD symptoms and traits, including failure to give close attention to detail, impulsivity, forgetfulness, risk-taking behaviors, and more might explain the elevated probability of exposure to Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in this group.
“These characteristics of ADHD interfere with the ability to comply with WHO demands for the prevention of COVID-19 infection,” part of the study reads. “The notion of dysregulated behavior as a cause for increased risk for infection with COVID-19 is supported by the reduced rate of infection in ADHD treated patients, as compared to the higher rate of infection in the untreated ones.”
The results, the researchers note, should encourage healthcare providers to educate ADHD patients on preventive actions, and to adhere to ADHD treatment.
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1Merzon, E., Manor, I., Rotem, A., Schneider, T., Vinker, S., Golan Cohen, A., … Green, I. (2020). ADHD as a Risk Factor for Infection With Covid-19. Journal of Attention Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720943271