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Study Gives Some Comfort to Concern about ADHD Medicine and the Heart

Study Shows No Increase in Cardiac Events with ADHD Medications (original painting by Olivia)

Currently, a little less than 5% of children in the U.S have ADHD and are taking medicine (including stimulants and not-stimulant prescriptions) for it.  Having a child with ADHD taking medicine lends itself to concerns about potential side effects. We know that physical movement like walking, riding a bicycle or even talking can raise heart rate and blood pressure. ADHD medicines can do this as well.  As it turns out, new epidemiological data seems to reflect that ADHD medicine’s effect on the cardiovascular system on average does not statistically increase a child’s chance of dying due to a heart problem. In other words, the study seems to reveal that, on average, a child is not more statistically likely to have a cardiac event that leads to death if they take an ADHD medicine or not.  This of course does not mean that ADHD medicine can prevent cardiac death and nor does it mean that people with heart problems can necessarily take ADHD medicine. Unfortunately, this gives us little information about an individual child as is each child is so unique; but fortunately it appears to be good news for the population as a whole.

Dr. Henessy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia published a study in the prestigious Journal Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics). The study was not experimental, instead the records of over 400,000 children were reviewed. The findings showed that if a child takes an ADHD medicine the incidence of death is 1.79 for every 10,000 person-years.  However, ironically it is even slightly higher in the group of children whom did not take ADHD medicine.  In the non-medicine control group, the incidence was 3.00 per 10,000 person-years. (To place these numbers in perspective, in Louisiana the incidence of death related to a motor vehicle accident is 2.4 per 10,000 person-years.)  Hypotheses for why there is no statistical increase in cardiac death are because it is possible that children taking medicine are being monitored more closely or maybe because the slight increase in blood pressure and heart rate is protective to the heart (like taking a walk) or possibly some other reasons that are yet unknown.

There are however valid concerns with children whose Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (add/adhd) is not treated.  As parents whom have children with ADHD hyperactive type can attest the physical exertion put forth by the child when the medicine (stimulants or otherwise) is not present can be extraordinary.  Terms that are used to describe this include: “bouncing off the walls”, “driven by a motor”, and “rambunctious”.  Not only does this level of activity raise heart rate as well as blood pressure but it often results in a reprimand by caregivers which could affect self esteem.  Hyperactivity and impulsivity also places a child at an increase risk of a physical accident. It is known that ADHD increases the chance for developing other disorders like OCD and depression which would then necessitate therapy. There is much to consider.

As parents, we do our best to provide for our children. Please keep in mind that medical literature is constantly being updated and is at times prone to human error no matter how compelling or encouraging the data seems. In general however, we want to find the best treatment that we can for our children and the more we know the better.

(We very much hope that you have enjoyed the above article; please remember it is for information only. Also please remember that nothing in this article is meant to be given as any type of medical or psychiatric advice as it is for informational purposes only.  Nor is this article intended to substitute in any way for professional medical or child psychiatrist advice, diagnosis, decision making, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician, psychiatrist, child psychiatrist,or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical or psychiatric condition. We strongly advise that you never disregard professional medical or psychiatric advice or delay in seeking advise because of anything you have read on the Acadian Care website. Thank you.  Acadian Care LLC is a private mental health clinic located in Slidell and Mandeville Louisiana.)

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