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

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

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

Using data from Medicaidand the HealthCoreIntegrated Research Database, Penn Medicine researchers compared theincidence rates of serious cardiovascular events in adults taking ADHDmedications to rates in non-users. Incidents of interest were sudden cardiacdeath or ventricular arrhythmia, stroke, or heart attack.

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

“It is reassuring that there’s a growing body of evidence showingno association between using these mediations and serious cardiovascularevents,” said says SeanHennessy, PharmD, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology, and director ofthe Center for PharmacoepidemiologyResearch and Training at Penn Medicine. “These new data provide furthersupport that cardiovascular events are no more common in users of ADHDmedications than in non-users," "The study expands upon previous andsimilar findings in studies that have focused specifically on cardiovascularhealth in kids using ADHD medications.”

One of the most common behavioral problems diagnosed inchildren, ADHD is characterized by difficulty in sustaining attention,impulsivity and hyperactivity – symptoms which carry over to adulthood inroughly 60 percent of children diagnosed with the disorder. According to datafrom the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, parents report that approximately 9.5 percent ofchildren 4-17 years of age (5.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of2007 – an increase of 22 percent over parent-reported diagnoses from 2003.

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

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

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