Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often treated with a prescription stimulant such as Adderall or Ritalin. In fact, stimulants are the third most common prescribed drug for children, behind antibiotics and antidepressants. For more than a decade, however, there has been much concern about the health effects of the use of ADHD drugs, specifically how their use affects the cardiac system.
U.S. News & World Report recently published a study by The University of Florida (UF) that concluded ADHD drugs do not put children at a higher risk for heart problems. The in-depth research looked at over a million children across 28 states and found the risk of a cardiac malfunction to be one in 30,000.
Backing up the UF research, the British Medical Journal published a study confirming that children taking Adderall and Ritalin do not have a greater risk for a cardiac event.
Why Use Stimulants?
Stimulants seem to be an odd choice to treat ADHD. However, researchers have concluded that these stimulants work by targeting the prefrontal cortex, part of the brain that controls decision-making and personality. ADHD drugs stimulate the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in the brain. Scientists think dopamine controls memory and the formation of addictive behaviors, while norepinephrine is linked to attentiveness.
Researchers are quick to point out that there is still a lot that is unknown about ADHD drugs. Although much research has been done to rule out any negative side effects of short-term use, long-term use is impossible to judge right now. In the coming decades, the medical community will watch ADHD patients carefully to determine the long-term effects of stimulant use. Of the two million children diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S., the National Institute of Mental Health estimates 30 to 70 percent will continue to be medicated into their adult years, making the need for additional research about long-term ADHD drug use imperative.