Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Encouraging news about ADHD drugs and heart risk in adults

Fast on the heels of a report that drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not increase the risk of death from heart disease in children comes another reassuring study — this one in adults.

In a paper published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers report that they analyzed medical records from four health plans in the United States. The sample included 150,000 adults taking stimulant drugs such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine (Adderall) that are commonly used to treat ADHD, and another 300,000 adults not taking these drugs. The researchers found no association between ADHD drugs and heart attack, sudden cardiac death, or stroke.

Slightly more than 4% of U.S. adults meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Although the problem usually originates in childhood, symptoms of ADHD tend to evolve and become more subtle with age. By adulthood, the primary difficulty is usually with memory and attention — causing problems not only at work, but also with personal relationships and finances.

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