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February 22, 2013 // By Katie Delach // Comments

Focusing Attention on Heart Health: Good News for Adults Taking ADHD Medication

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To celebrate February as American Heart Month, the News Blog is highlighting some of the latest heart-centric news and stories from all areas of Penn Medicine.

Heart-pills1Research studies have shown that medications commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – such as Adderall, Dexedrine and Ritalin – have a modest effect on blood pressure and heart rate, leading to concern amongst the medical community and the public at large about the potential cardiovascular risks associated with using these drugs. Now, a new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania is helping to shed some light on the cardiovascular safety for adults using these common medications.

Using data from Medicaid and the HealthCore Integrated Research Database, Penn Medicine researchers compared the incidence rates of serious cardiovascular events in adults taking ADHD medications to rates in non-users. Incidents of interest were sudden cardiac death or ventricular arrhythmia, stroke, or heart attack.

Although ADHD medication users identified in the study were more likely to have pre-existing cardiovascular or psychiatric disorders, the study ultimately showed that adults using medication to treat ADHD were no more likely to suffer a serious cardiac event than non-users.

“It is reassuring that there’s a growing body of evidence showing no association between using these mediations and serious cardiovascular events,” said says Sean Hennessy, PharmD, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology, and director of the Center for Pharmacoepidemiology Research and Training at Penn Medicine. “These new data provide further support that cardiovascular events are no more common in users of ADHD medications than in non-users," "The study expands upon previous and similar findings in studies that have focused specifically on cardiovascular health in kids using ADHD medications.”

One of the most common behavioral problems diagnosed in children, ADHD is characterized by difficulty in sustaining attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity – symptoms which carry over to adulthood in roughly 60 percent of children diagnosed with the disorder. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parents report that approximately 9.5 percent of children 4-17 years of age (5.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2007 – an increase of 22 percent over parent-reported diagnoses from 2003.

Over the last two decades, studies have shown a drastically increasing number of patients diagnosed with ADHD. Though prevalence rates of ADHD in adults are not as well determined, rough estimates suggest 4-5 percent of adults may have been diagnosed with the disorder. Regardless of age, patients diagnosed with ADHD are most often placed on a combination of medication and behavioral treatments. To date, approximately 1.5 million adults in the U.S. use medication to treat the disorder.

"We continue to see reassuring results from these studies looking for cardiac effects of ADHD medications,” said Hennessy. “Given what we know about the increasing number of ADHD diagnoses, and the possibility that a child diagnosed with the disorder will could to struggle with the symptoms into adulthood, it is vital that we have a better understanding of how these medications are affecting long-term health.”

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