Could ADHD Mean a Shorter Life?

Medically reviewed in November 2021

When we think of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, it brings to mind symptoms such as hyperactivity and impulsivity in children and adults. Rarely is it considered to be a life-threatening disorder.

But a new study published in The Lancet may be changing our perception of this condition.

A team of Danish researchers looked at every child in Denmark (about 2 million people), including 32,000 diagnosed with ADHD, born between 1981 and 2011, tracking them from birth until 2013. After adjusting for factors such as age, sex and family history of mental illness, the researchers found that those with ADHD were twice as likely to die prematurely, usually from accidents, than people without the disorder. They also found that women with ADHD have an increased risk of death than men.

While the study found the absolute risk of death to be very low, about 3 in 1,000, those with ADHD were more likely to have problems such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and substance abuse, which upped mortality risk. 

The risks of ADHD
The trademarks of ADHD—irrational decision-making, inability to focus and impulsivity—make it easy to understand sufferers’ propensity for accidents or risky behavior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that for teens and young adults with the condition, car accidents pose a particularly high risk. And adults with ADHD often report on-the-job injuries and tend to engage in more high-risk activities, which can increase their chance of accidents.

Staying safe with symptom management
Many people believe that being proactive in managing their ADHD symptoms can help to lower the risks of ADHD-related complications, and experts agree. “Although it hasn’t been conclusively proven, keeping ADHD under control through medication or behavioral intervention would likely lower the increase in mortality that’s been associated with[the disorder]” says Keith Roach, MD, internal medicine specialist and co-founder of the RealAge Test.

Consider these options for helping to manage your symptoms:

  • Exercise - Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin, which helps mental focus. And a good workout is a great way to calm restlessness and manage nervous energy.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy - Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help people living with ADHD learn better ways to deal with behavioral issues such as irritability, restlessness and impulsivity. It can also help with symptoms such as poor time management and disorganization.
  • Keep a journal - Journaling is powerful tool to help you not only track your symptoms, but also vent frustrations and manage negative emotions. It’s a great way to focus, as well as organize your scattered thoughts.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders - Whether the doctor is recommending medication or dietary changes, it’s important to follow the treatment plan he or she has set up for you. Let them know if your symptoms have changed or if the medication you’re taking is causing unwanted side effects. The important thing is to keep an open dialogue so they can provide you with the best possible care.

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