A Norwegian team based at the University of Bergen recently performed a population study using the country’s detailed national health registries. With records from more than two and a half million Norwegians, the team examined what, if any, associations could be found between ADHD and nine autoimmune diseases: ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, iridocyclitis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, type 1 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.
After adjusting for age and maternal education, the team found no association between ADHD and five of the nine autoimmune disorders: type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, iridocyclitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and multiple sclerosis. In the case of ankylosing spondylitis, it found no association with males with ADHD, but a negative association with females. Females with ADHD were less likely to have ankylosing spondylitis. The adjusted odds ratio (aOR) was 0.56 (95% CI 0.32-0.96).
Positive associations were found for only three autoimmune diseases. The strongest was for psoriasis, with adjusted odds ratios of 1.6 (95% CI 1.5-1.7) for females and 1.3 (95% CI 1.2-1.4) for males. When further adjusted for education, smoking, and body mass index (BMI), however, the adjusted odds ratio for females with ADHD dropped to 1.3 (95% CI 1.0-1.6).
The second strongest association was with Crohn’s disease. But here it was only among women. The odds ratio in this case was 1.4 (95% CI 1.2-1.8). Males with ADHD were actually less likely to have Crohn’s disease, with an odds ratio of 0.71 (95% CI 0.54-0.92).
Finally, females with ADHD were slightly more likely to have ulcerative colitis, with a barely significant odds ratio of 1.3 (95% CI 1.1-1.5), while no such association was found for males with ADHD, whose odds ratio was a statistically nonsignificant 0.9.
Given the large sample size of over two and a half million, this is no underpowered study. It found no association between ADHD and the generic category of autoimmune disorders. Furthermore, it is a stretch to argue that there are any clear and clinically meaningful links between ADHD and any of the specific disorders that were analyzed in this study. The small and often opposite effect sizes may simply reflect limitations with the data (presumed autoimmune disorders were identified based on drugs prescribed), or to other unidentified confounding factors.
Tor‐Arne Hegvik, Johanne Telnes Instanes, Jan Haavik, Kari Klungsøyr, Anders Engeland, “Associations between attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autoimmune diseases are modified by sex: a population‐based cross‐sectional study,” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, vol. 27 (2018), 663-675.