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ADD & ADHD Health Center

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ADHD Drugs Not Linked to Increased Heart Risks in Adults

Study May Calm Fears That the Stimulant Drugs Can Lead to Heart Attacks
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 12, 2011 -- A study of 150,000 adults taking drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found no conclusive evidence that the medications increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, or sudden death from heart-related causes.

The research, published online Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, comes just over a month after the same investigators found that the drugs likely do not raise the risk for serious heart problems in children and young adults, based on their study of more than 1.2 million young users.

Millions of children and adults in the U.S. take stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin, or the non-stimulant Strattera to treat ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity, impulse control, and trouble focusing.

The new findings should reassure adult patients who take ADHD drugs, but they do not rule out a modest increase in risk associated with their use, says researcher Laurel A. Habel, PhD, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

“With any drug there are potential risks, and these drugs can increase blood pressure,” she tells WebMD. “But if there is an increase in [heart-related] events, our study suggests that it is slight.”

ADHD Drugs and the Heart

Use of stimulant and non-stimulant ADHD drugs has increased rapidly among adults over the past decade, with almost one in three prescriptions now written for adults.

The drugs can increase blood pressure and heart rate. In 2006, reports of health issues led the FDA to commission the largest studies ever conducted examining ADHD drug-related heart risks in children and adults.

In the latest study, researchers followed slightly more than 150,000 adults who had been prescribed stimulant or non-stimulant ADHD medication and about 300,000 adults with no history of ADHD drug use.

The study period lasted about two decades, during which time there were 1,357 heart attacks, 296 sudden deaths from cardiac arrest, and 575 strokes recorded.

Use of ADHD drugs was not associated with an increased risk of any of these three outcomes, even among users with prior heart disease.

Although the studies do not support claims that ADHD drugs significantly increase the risk for life-threatening heart events, the researchers conclude that a modest increase in risk associated with their use cannot be ruled out.

“These studies provide an important piece of the puzzle that we have not had,” says Vanderbilt University professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine William O. Cooper, MD, who led the study in children.

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