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Heart Health

How stimulants may affect your heart

February 1, 2022

Beware that over-the-counter supplements may contain hidden, potentially harmful stimulants.

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Prescriptions for stimulants have risen sharply over the past two decades. Commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, these drugs include amphetamines (Adderall, Adzenys) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta). But increasingly, stimulants are being prescribed to older adults. New research suggests they may cause a short-term spike in the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias).

The findings make sense, since stimulants cause the heart to beat faster and with greater force, both of which can raise blood pressure, says Dr. Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an internist at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. "These well-known side effects may be more worrisome in older people, who are more vulnerable to heart problems than younger people are," he says.

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About the Author

photo of Julie Corliss

Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Julie Corliss is the executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter. Before working at Harvard, she was a medical writer and editor at HealthNews, a consumer newsletter affiliated with The New England Journal of Medicine. She … See Full Bio
View all posts by Julie Corliss

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