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Study: ADHD meds don't boost severe heart risks
May 16th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Study: ADHD meds don't boost severe heart risks

Children and teens who take medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are no more likely to die from severe heart problems than those who do not take the medications, new research has found.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, along with co-authors from HealthCore Inc., noted that if a child is responding well to ADHD medicine, the benefit of the drug outweighs the risk of that child developing heart problems.

"These data provide reassurance that the thing most concerning – death – is not any higher in users of ADHD medications than non-users," says senior author Sean Hennessy, an associate professor of epidemiology at Penn. "For kids who will benefit from ADHD treatment, the potential risk of a cardiovascular event should not dissuade parents or caregivers from giving a child or adolescent these drugs."

Researchers looked at patient data in Medicaid records from five states (California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio) as well as in the HealthCore Integrated Research Database, which contains medical information for more than 44 million enrollees in Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. Out of that data, more than 241,000 patients aged 3-17 who were on ADHD medications were tracked by looking at their health records. Investigators then compared rates of sudden death, heart attack, and stroke in patients taking ADHD medications with a control group made up of children and teens (more than 965,000) who were not taking medications, during a 609-day period.

Researchers found that of those children or teens taking ADHD medication, 28 had died, during that time frame, while 607 had died in the non-medicated group. They also noted there were no cases of heart attack or stroke in the group who were on ADHD medication, while there were 11 cases of cardiac events in the non-exposed group.

"The fact that the rates of cardiovascular events that could be identified were very low is of interest because at least we can tell that we do not have an epidemic of such events in kids receiving ADHD drugs," Hennessy says. "If ADHD medications were causing an epidemic of cardiovascular events, we would expect to see it in this study."

An estimated 2.7 million of all children in the United States ages 4 to 17 took ADHD medications in 2007, which is the most recent data available. After other studies had found that drugs designed to treat ADHD could lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure in children, these researchers wanted to explore a large database of patient records to see if patients who recently began taking ADHD medications appeared any more likely to suffer cardiac problems.

"This is one of first answers but it won't be the last," Hennessy says, adding that since 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been looking into the potential cardiovascular risks of ADHD medications on children. "Until the results of the FDA study become public, this study should provide reassurance to parent and caregivers that ADHD drugs are safe from cardiovascular perspective," noted Hennessy.

The study was funded by Shire, a manufacturer of ADHD medications. The study's sponsor approved the protocol, and had the right to provide non-binding written comments on a draft of the study manuscript.


soundoff (124 Responses)
  1. CHANGE YOUR DIET CHANGE YOUR DIET!

    My child almost died being put on adhd meds. Do you know what we did instead? After extensive research and help from a natural doctor, we found out that GLUTEN AND PROCESSED SUGARS caused his ADHD. We cut them out. He is now 100% better! NO LIE!

    PLEASE CHANGE DIET FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It can save your child's life! :(.....

    May 17, 2011 at 18:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael

      Yes! I've had ADD my entire life. When I changed my diet in my early 20s, it was as if I was waking up from a very long dark dream. My life changed dramatically and I began to live a much more fulfilled life because I could think clearly and have sustained energy. Our bodies have not evolved to eat processed foods. People with ADD/ADHD are far more sensitive to diet than the rest of the population. Look up the Feingold Diet, read some books by Thom Hartmann on the Hunter-Farmer theory of ADD, and find your local health food store. It doesn't have to be a difficult task, but it takes a commitment to not take the easy path of taking meds. ADD/ADHD is not a disease or a pathology - it's a body/brain type.

      May 17, 2011 at 19:19 | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      We lived gluten free for 7 years from a misdiagnosis of celiac disease. The diet was no help for us in regards to our add/adhd, but I'm glad it worked for you. these adhd drugs are strong,rough stuff, esp on small bodies.

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      May 18, 2011 at 13:23 | Report abuse |
  2. Chris

    @ Change and Michael, You are so right. Their are so many alternative ways to deal with ADHD that your medical providers either dont know or wont tell you. I feel the pharmaceuatical companies are making it too lucratice and enticing, so instead of doing the right thing and investigating and trying small changes they just throw pills at them in the hopes that it will work. Great resources in your post Michael. Thank you.

    May 18, 2011 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dad

    My 19 son and his friends are up all night and im worried they may ne using adhd medicine to do that. He said no they are just playing vedio games. How can I tell? What are the signs?

    May 19, 2011 at 01:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Adderaller

    @ Dad:

    Your son would display symptoms such as shakiness in the hands, really cold hands/feet, acting more hyper or twitchy than usual...

    The big tell is mental though, if he seems to be over-analyzing seemingly unimportant things (like talking for 20 minutes about why the sky is blue) or fixating/hyperfocusing on stimulating activities (like, we're talking 5 – 8+ straight hours of gaming when that isn't his normal behavior).

    It can actually be really difficult to tell. The easiest way is to check the number of pills he has left, and when his last refill was.

    May 26, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mom

    We have gone gluten-free, caisen-free, sugar-free, even lol taste-free. The gluten-free cleared up his skin and stomach problems, but he is still hyper and inattentive. I am glad to read this article because we are considering some use of meds. He needs to go to the dentist and things like that. He can't go the way he is now.

    June 7, 2011 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.