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The predominantly inattentive (IN) subtype of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a recently defined condition that is often overlooked by professionals and is still not completely understood. Characterized by symptoms of inattentiveness, such as distractibility, failure to complete work, forgetfulness, and disorganization, the IN subtype differs from the more commonly recognized combined (CB) subtype of ADHD in that symptoms of hyper activity and impulsivity are absent or minimal. Large-scale epidemiologic studies suggest that the IN subtype is at least as prevalent as the CB subtype, and is at least as likely to be associated with academic and/or social impairment. Diagnosis of the IN subtype, however, may be more challenging because in addition to inattentiveness, other symptoms, including learning problems, depression, and anxiety, may also present without externalizing behaviors. Several studies have shown that compared with the CB subtype, the IN subtype has a later age of onset and referral, a relatively larger proportion of affected females, and is much less likely to be associated with symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. Research is currently under way to examine the cognitive characteristics of the IN subtype and its genetic and neurobiologic underpinnings, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of pharmacotherapy and other treatments.
Background: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) occurs in as many as 4% of adults yet it is often not recognized in clinical settings because the presenting symptoms may resemble those seen in other disorders or because symptoms may be masked by commonly comorbid conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the diagnostic utility of instruments commonly used in the assessment of adults presenting with symptoms of ADHD.
Methods: We reviewed several widely used self-report and laboratory measures and empirically examined the utility of the Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Scale for Adults (Brown ADD Scale) and the Conners Continuous Performance Test (CPT) in differentially identifying adults with ADHD and those with other Axis I disorders.
Results:Ninety-three adults who self-referred to the ADHD program for adults at a university medical center participated in the study. Of these, 44 had ADHD combined subtype (ADHD-CB), and 26 had ADHD, predominantly inattentive subtype (ADHD-IA). Thirty-three non-ADHD adults diagnosed with Axis I mood or anxiety disorders comprised an “Other Psychiatric” group. Rates of comorbid disorders, including substance abuse, in the ADHD groups were typical of those reported in the adult ADHD literature. Data on the Brown ADD Scale and on the CPT were available for subsets of 61 and 46 participants, respectively. Analyses showed that the ADHD-CB, ADHD-IA, and Other Psychiatric groups all received mean scores in the clinical range on the Brown ADD Scale, with a trend toward even higher elevations in the two ADHD groups. Among 12 CPT variables assessed for the three groups, the mean scores on only two variables for the ADHD-IA group were clinically elevated. Neither the Brown ADD Scale nor CPT scores evinced sufficient sensitivity and specificity to qualify them to assist in differential diagnosis of ADHD vis-a-vis other, predominantly internalizing, psychiatric disorders.
Conclusion: The results indicate a need for closer examination of executive and adaptive functioning in adults with ADHD compared with those with internalizing disorders in order to identify features that could assist in differential diagnosis.
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