Brain Patterns in ADHD & Bipolar Disorder

Brain Patterns in ADHD & Bipolar Disorder

A new King’s College London study has identified both unique and shared brain patterns in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder (BD), which could, in the future, help clinicians more accurately diagnose and treat the conditions.

ADHD and BD are common psychiatric conditions in adults and both are associated with severe impairment and high risk for negative outcomes. Due to the overlap of certain symptoms, including emotional instability, restlessness and distractibility, there can be uncertainty regarding the distinction between the two disorders in some cases, which can lead to incorrect diagnosis and treatment.

King’s researchers recorded the brain activity of 20 women with ADHD, 20 women with BD and 20 women without either disorder using EEG (electroencephalography), which measures patterns of brain activity using non-invasive electrodes placed on the scalp.

These brain patterns were assessed while participants performed a computerised cognitive task. Participants were asked to respond to the letter ‘X’ following an ‘O’ and to withhold their responses if ‘O’ did not precede an ‘X’. This assessment was designed to measure levels of attention and the ability to inhibit an incorrect response.

Women in the control group showed an expected increase in brain activity when withholding (or inhibiting) their responses, whereas a significantly smaller brain response was observed in both women with ADHD and women with BD. This suggests that when the ADHD and BD groups needed to inhibit incorrect responses on the tasks, their brains were not processing the information in the same way as controls. According to the authors, this abnormal brain response may explain the inhibition deficits and impulsivity found in both disorders.

However, it was women with BD who showed an additional impairment. Compared to the ADHD and control groups, they displayed a weaker brain response related to the ability to monitor their own performance and select correct responses. The researchers suggest that, for women with BD, their brains may work less efficiently when it comes to monitoring their own performance on a task.

Professor Jonna Kuntsi of the IoPPN at King’s College London, said: ‘The identification of distinct brain patterns between these disorders may in the future serve as a ‘biomarker’ to aid in the accurate diagnosis of ADHD and BD in the case of people presenting with features of both conditions.

4 Replies

  • I have one question: were the selected women with BD and ADHD already diagnosed, and therefore on psychiatric medication? It is well known and scientifically evidenced that psychoactive drugs significantly alter brain chemistry, and consequently brain activity. This pharmaceutical alteration of the structure of the brain is specifically designed to "improve" unacceptably disinhibited symptoms in mental disorders such as BD and ADHD. It surely follows that the chemical dumbing down of hyperactive or impulsive behaviours in people with BD and ADHD will also result in slower responses to tasks that require attention and swift processing.

    It would be far more useful to monitor brain activity during tasks requiring quick processing of information using people with BD and ADHD who have not been on any form of psychiatric medication. This would negate any impairments brought on by chemically altered brains, and would provide a much more reliable basis for differentiating between BD and ADHD. That, in itself, would lead to improvements in both the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders.

  • That is a good question. I will try and locate the corresponding research paper and upload it for you.:)

  • Hi:) I found a link to the journal 'Psychological Medicine' which published the corresponding research paper:

    I wasn't able to locate the paper, but that could be because it's 20 minutes to midnight and I need my bed!!!:)

  • Thanks very much! I'll look for the actual paper when I follow the link you've kindly provided. But as you say, it's nearly midnight, and my bed is calling me too!! I MUST resist the constant temptation to browse the internet at this time of night!! :))

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