A new European study finds that impulsivity combined with an eating disorder is a complex condition and one that often has a poor prognosis.
Researchers followed 191 patients and discovered that symptoms of hyperactivity due to attention and hyperactivity deficits (ADHD) were associated with more impulsivity and more severity among patients with eating disorders.
Although not uncommon, adult ADHD has received limited scientific scrutiny. While some studies have reported an association between ADHD and abnormal eating behavior, a link between ADHD and eating disorders in adults had not been scientifically validated.
In the current study, published in the online edition of the journal BMC Psychiatry, researchers from Bellvitge University Hospital collaborated with investigators from the Department of Psychiatry of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital. The hospitals are in or near Barcelona.
ADHD symptoms related to hyperactivity such as impulsivity are sometimes present in patients with eating disorders, said lead researcher Fernando Fernández-Aranda, Ph.D.
These disorders “are found mainly in patients with a more impulsive personality: people suffering bulimia, binge eating disorders and unspecific eating disorders.
“On the other hand, more restrictive anorexic patients and those with more ability to control themselves do not show these symptoms.”
Researchers said the current study allowed them to develop a model that could be clinically useful for early detection of risk factors which could lead to an eating disorder.
ADHD symptoms are positively associated with impulsive personality traits and age. More impulsive and older patients have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. Impulsivity is also associated with a greater severity of the disorder.
Moreover, researchers say these impulsivity symptoms are associated with low self-direction, a character trait that involves the ability to plan and reach objectives in the medium and long term.
“So, patients with ADHD symptoms also have a worse prognosis because it is harder for them to be able to accomplish a treatment,” said Fernández-Aranda.
According to Fernández-Aranda, the new model will be useful not only in the clinic but also for investigating brain circuits that regulate the reward system; these are similar in several behavioral pathologies such as eating disorders, pathological gambling and other behavioral addictions.