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Study: Stimulants used to treat ADHD may increase cardiovascular risk

Assorted Pills

Each year, thousands of children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and put on stimulant medications to help them better focus. While these drugs have proven successful in many children, they have been linked cardiovascular health problems.

New data published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology suggests that stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall can accelerate heart disease that will often not be recognized until later in life.

Researchers followed more than 700,000 children born in Denmark between 1990 and 1999. They found that while cardiovascular events were rare, they were twice as likely to occur in stimulant users than those who did not take the drugs.

Over the last decade, the over-diagnosis of ADHD in American children has been hotly debated. The truth is, in many children and adults it is over-treated, putting them at risk for heart disease and even addiction. Based on this new study, underestimating the complications of placing potentially addicting drugs in the hands of more people may have more damaging consequences than we previously thought.

Of course, when ADHD is properly diagnosed and treated with the lowest possible doses of stimulant medication, one can reduce the risk to children and adults. And
early pharmacological treatment may reduce the risk of substance abuse in some children.

These and all drugs carry risks.  When we prescribe medications that can acutely affect the health of young people, or in the long run result in illness, disease, or death – we need to provide a caution on the pill bottle. It’s important that we emphasize that these drugs may be addicting and should not be mixed with other drugs, supplements or drinks.

It is true that the chance of having an adverse outcome is statistically low.  But with so many children on these medications for so many years, the risks rise substantially.

Before putting your child on medication, try healthy diet combined with smart lifestyle changes that may reduce or even eliminate symptoms and may also protect your child’s heart from many diseases.

READ MORE: ADHD: The answer is not always in a pill 

Dr. Robert J. Tozzi is Chief of Pediatric Cardiology and the Founding Medical Director of The Gregory M. Hirsch Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He is the co-author of several papers published in refereed research journals, and he has lectured extensively in his field at numerous professional conferences. To learn more, visit his website at DRTOZ.com.

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