Study: ADHD Medications Don't Increase Heart Risks

Carolyn Drake

The largest safety study performed to date has found that ADHD drugs do not raise the risk of severe heart problems.

The largest safety study performed to date has found that ADHD drugs do not raise the risk of severe heart problems. Commissioned by the FDA, this study is the first of three investigations probing the connection between ADHD drugs and heart risks.

In 2006, several reports of heart attacks and strokes in children taking ADHD drugs sparked concern in US and Canadian regulators, leading to Health Canada temporarily suspending marketing of ADHD drugs and a black box warning being added to some ADHD drugs, including Adderall.

Further, the American Heart Association recommended that children prescribed the drugs should undergo an EKG test to confirm good heart health before taking them.

The recent findings, however, indicate that frequently prescribed stimulant drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta are not linked to an increase in heart attacks, strokes, or sudden deaths. The researchers were happy to report that these events rarely occurred within the children involved with the study, and the rates did not differ from children who took the drugs and those who did not.

The study led by Dr. William Cooper, professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, assessed the medical records of 1,200,438 children and young adults between the ages of two and 24, with an average age of 11. The children all had either used the drugs in the past, were currently taking them, or had never taken the ADHD drugs in their lives. The researchers reported that they hope that these findings will reassure many parents whose children take medications to treat ADHD.

Of the cases assessed, only 81 cases of serious heart problems were found between 1998 and 2005. Only seven were currently taking the ADHD medication, while 25 had formerly taken the drugs. The greatest number of severe heart problems (49) was found in participants who had never taken the medications.

Despite the promising findings, however, the FDA reported that it would continue to warn parents and physicians of the potential threat ADHD medication could pose within children and young adults diagnosed with heart problems.

"The good news is that it doesn't look like overall, there's an increase in cardiovascular events in kids who are on ADHD drugs," said Dr Gordon Tomaselli, a Johns Hopkins University heart specialist and president of the American Heart Association. "The question parents should be asking themselves is, 'Does my child really need this?'"

In the US alone, 3% to 5% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD, which means that roughly 5.4 million children between the ages of four and 17 live with the neurological disorder. Every year, 2.7 million children are prescribed drugs to treat ADHD.

This study was published on November 1 by the New England Journal of Medicine.