March 22, 2012 (San Diego) -- Could acne be a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
Yes, says a Canadian psychiatrist whose study shows that people with acne are substantially more likely to have ADHD than people with other skin problems.
“Acne patients should be screened for ADHD, especially if they complain about [classic symptoms such as] trouble paying attention and impulsivity,” says Madhulika A. Gupta, MD, of the University of Western Ontario in London.
"The child or teen with acne that has ADHD will not look any different than the child or teen with acne that doesn’t have ADHD. But if you ask them if they have trouble concentrating at school, the answer will be a definite yes,” she tells WebMD.
The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Previous studies have linked acne to a number of psychiatric problems, including depression and eating disorders. But no one had examined a possible association between acne and ADHD, Gupta says.
So she and her colleagues examined data on nearly 950 million doctor visits for skin conditions between 1995 and 2008, looking to see if any of the visits also involved a visit for ADHD. More than 100 million visits involved a diagnosis of acne and nearly 175 million involved atopic eczema, a condition characterized by red, itchy, dry skin.
Gupta says they chose atopic eczema as a comparison group because it and acne both typically start in childhood. The average age of the patients with ADHD and acne studied was 15 years, and the average age of the patients with ADHD and atopic eczema was 11 years.
Results showed visits involving a diagnosis of acne were 6.3 times more likely to also involve a diagnosis of ADHD than visits involving diagnoses of other skin problems. They were 5.6 times more likely to involve a diagnosis of ADHD than visits involving atopic eczema.
Just a Coincidence?
But another researcher says the finding is probably just coincidence.
“It just shows that common diseases in teens occur commonly,” says Zoe D. Draelos, MD, consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. “Acne and ADHD are both common in teens.”
That said, “acne can be disabling psychologically to teens,” Draelos tells WebMD. “It sometimes gets taken too lightly,” she says.
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.