ADHD Medications May Increase the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

New research suggests that long-term use of ADHD drugs, particularly stimulant medications, could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 23%.

Worldwide, research suggests that more than 366 million adults had an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis in 2020. Moreover, according to health researchers from IQVIA, pharmacists dispensed 41.4 million prescriptions for Adderall in the United States in 2021 — a 10% increase from 2020.

This increased demand for ADHD medications resulted in an Adderall shortage, prompting the FDA and DEA to address the ongoing situation by urging drug manufacturers to step up ADHD drug production.

Though clinical trials have shown that Adderall and other medications are effective for managing ADHD, their impact on cardiovascular health isn't fully understood. Yet, because of the rise in prescriptions, determining whether these medications have any potential cardiovascular risks is critical.

In a new study published on November 22 in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers took a closer look at the potential links between ADHD medications and heart-related conditions.

They found that people who took ADHD medications for five years or more had a 23% increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Though this number is lower than previously reported, the scientists say people should watch for signs and symptoms of heart disease while taking these medications.

To examine the potential relationship between ADHD drugs and cardiovascular disease, the researchers recruited 278,027 Swedish children and adults with ADHD between 2007 and 2020.

They followed the participants for up to 14 years and looked at whether those taking stimulant or non-stimulant medications for ADHD developed one or more of several heart-related conditions.

Overall, the scientists found that people who took ADHD medications for more than five years had a 23% increased risk of heart disease. Still, this risk was lower than previous findings.

Specifically, each year of medication use increased the risk of heart disease by 4%, especially in the first three years. However, after that time, the risk stabilized.

The team also discovered that long-term ADHD medication use — particularly stimulant drugs — was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and arterial disease but not other cardiovascular conditions. The scientists say the increased high blood pressure and arterial disease risk may contribute to the heightened cardiovascular disease risk found in the study.

While the risk was statistically small, the study's authors suggest that because prescription rates are rising, people with ADHD should consider weighing the benefits and risks associated with these medications before taking them. They also say individuals who are already taking Adderall and other ADHD medications should monitor for cardiovascular disease symptoms throughout treatment.

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