Very little is known about the prevalence of ADHD symptoms in Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder and even less in other eating disorders. This knowledge gap is of clinical importance since stimulant treatment is proven effective in Binge Eating Disorder and discussed as a treatment possibility for Bulimia Nervosa. The objective of this study was to explore the prevalence and types of self-reported ADHD symptoms in an unselected group of eating disorder patients assessed in a specialized eating disorder clinic.
In total 1165 adults with an eating disorder were assessed with a battery of standardized instruments, for measuring inter alia ADHD screening, demographic variables, eating disorder symptoms and psychiatric comorbidity. Chi-square tests were used for categorical variables and Kruskal-Wallis tests for continuous variables.
Almost one third (31.3 %) of the patients scored above the screening cut off indicating a possible ADHD. The highest prevalence rates (35-37 %) were found in Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa bingeing/purging subtype, while Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified type 1-4 and Binge Eating Disorder patients reported slightly below average (26-31 %), and Anorexia Nervosa restricting subtype patients even lower (18 %). Presence of binge eating, purging, loss of control over eating and non-anorectic BMI were related to results indicating a possible ADHD. Psychiatric comorbidity correlated to ADHD symptoms without explaining the differences between eating disorder diagnoses.
There is a high frequency of ADHD symptoms in patients with binge eating/purging eating disorders that motivates further studies, particularly concerning the effects of ADHD medication. The finding that the frequency of ADHD symptoms in anorexia nervosa with binge eating/purging is as high as in bulimia nervosa highlights the need also for this group.