Safe heart

ADHD drugs don’t prompt short-term heart risks

By Linda Homewood

Almut Winterstein, Ph.D.

Children taking central nervous system stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin do not face an increased risk of serious heart conditions during treatment, according to a new UF study that confirms findings reported in 2011. Published in the British Medical Journal in August, the study contributes to a decade-long clinical and policy debate of treatment risks for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

“This is a question that has been lingering for about 10 years,” said Almut Winterstein, Ph.D., a pharmacoepidemiologist and a professor in pharmaceutical outcomes and policy in the UF College of Pharmacy.

Stimulant drugs are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for children — after antibiotics and antidepressants, Winterstein added.

The study’s results show that every year, children have an approximately one in 30,000 risk of suffering a severe cardiac event. She found no increased risk for children who were taking stimulant drugs. A cardiac event includes sudden cardiac death, heart attack or stroke, and is typically caused by underlying heart disease. These results confirm previous study conclusions that there are no serious cardiac events resulting from short-term use of central nervous system stimulant drugs by children and young adults.

Funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and in part by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the study examines 1.2 million youths eligible for Medicaid programs in 28 states. It follows a similarly large investigation published in December 2011 in
The New England Journal of Medicine by William O. Cooper, M.D., who looked primarily at privately insured patients.

Although the study confirmed there are no short-term effects from central nervous system stimulants, the study did not reveal how these drugs affect patients in the long term.

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