The perils of mistaking OCD for ADHD

Misdiagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could jeopardise patient care. This is the warning of new research published in the Journal of Neuropsychology, which pointed to significant consequences when these two are confused with one another.

Professor Reuven Dar of the School of Psychological Sciences at Tel Aviv University and fellow researcher Dr Amitai Abramovitch noted that while the two conditions appear similar, they actually have very different roots.

The investigators looked at 30 individuals with OCD, 30 with ADHD and 30 with no psychiatric diagnosis, who underwent neuropsychological tests and questionnaires, in order to better understand the relationship between OCD and ADHD.

It was found that while people diagnosed with ADHD tend to be impulsive risk-takers and do not consider the consequences of the actions they take, those with OCD are overly concerned with such matters and often hesitate, over-plan and over-control as a consequence.

Professor Dar stated: "It's more likely that a young student will be diagnosed with ADHD instead of OCD because teachers see so many people with attention problems and not many with OCD."

Chartered Psychologist Barry Bourne comments:

"As an educational psychologist, I see very few children with OCD, although some of those diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder can display evidence of obsessive/compulsive behaviours. Hence, due to the high comorbidity of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and ADHD, there may well be some comorbid features of behaviour in either condition, such as a tendency to display some obsessive behaviours.

"However, I can recall very  few of the many children, whom I have considered to meet the criteria for ADHD to display full blown OCD, so I would be very surprised that such a misdiagnosis would be made with children, or I would hope with adult. In this respect I can only concur with the views of Professor Dar and Dr Abramovitch."