12/21/2012 11:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

OCD Often Mistaken For ADHD, Study Finds


By Jessica Firger

Patients frequently are misdiagnosed when they seek treatment for neuropsychological conditions, and many conditions manifest in similar ways. Bipolar disorder can look like depression, for example. These inaccurate diagnoses may delay appropriate treatment, and often do more harm than good.

A new study out of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences finds misdiagnosis to be a common -- and serious -- problem among two neuropsychological conditions: obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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OCD and ADHD share many of the same symptoms, including difficulties with focus, memory, and behavior control. However, the study, published in the Journal of Neuropsychology, has found these two conditions are not as alike as they would seem.

For the study, researchers evaluated three groups of subjects. Among them, 30 were diagnosed with OCD, 30 with ADHD, while the remaining study participants served as the control group. All of the study participants were male, whose average age was 30. Each participant took extensive neuropsychological tests and filled out questionnaires to assess their cognitive functions related to memory, attention, problem-solving, and impulse control.

Reuven Dars, PhD., and his team found individuals with ADHD tend to act more impulsively when it comes to taking risks, and they rarely consider the repercussions of such actions. On the other hand, people with OCD tend to dwell on the consequences of their actions, which may cause them to struggle when it comes to decision-making. The researchers also found in real life scenarios individuals with ADHD had more difficulty with impulse control.

Frequently, young people with OCD are misdiagnosed with ADHD, because they have trouble with learning and performing in a classroom environment.

OCD and ADHD are managed with vastly different medications. For OCD, doctors typically prescribe SSRIs, which are antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. Stimulant drugs, such as Adderall, are used to control the symptoms of ADHD.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 5.2 million children in the United States between ages 3 and 17, who have been diagnosed with ADHD, which makes it one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

"OCD Often Mistaken for ADHD" originally appeared on Everyday Health.