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July 3, 2014 — Children who are prescribed stimulant drugs to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are slightly more likely to have cardiovascular problems, according to a study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Pharmacology.

Conclusions were based on data from 714,000 children born in Denmark between 1990-1999. When the analysis was restricted to 8,300 children who were diagnosed with ADHD, the rate of cardiovascular events was 2.2-times higher among children who were on stimulant drugs, compared to children with ADHD who were not on stimulants.

However, the risk was still very low. Of the 8,300 children with ADHD, there were only 111 cardiovascular diagnoses, for a rate of 0.17%. The most common adverse events included:

  • arrhythmias (23%)
  • hypertension (8%)
  • ischemic heart disease (2%)
  • pulmonary heart disease (<1%)
  • cardiac arrest (<1%)
  • heart failure (2%)
  • heart disease caused by rheumatic fever (2%)
  • heart disease not otherwise specified (14%)
  • cerebrovascular disease (9%)
  • cardiovascular disease not otherwise specified (40%)

Surprisingly, higher doses of stimulant medications were associated with lower cardiovascular risk.

The label on the most popular ADHD medication, Ritalin (methylphenidate), already carries warnings about possible cardiovascular side effects in children. The overall incidence of these events is unknown. Some experts are concerned that ADHD is widely over-diagnosed in the United States, which unnecessarily exposes children to side effects like heart problems, priapism, and even addiction.

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