ADHD medications, when prescribed and used properly, are not likely to cause heart problems.
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  • ADHD medications rarely cause heart problems and are considered safe and effective, as long as they are taken as prescribed.
  • However, if you've experienced heart problems before, or have an unstable heart condition, you should check in with your doctor before using ADHD medication.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

It's estimated that more than 3.5 million children and 1.5 million adults in the US take medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The medications prescribed to treat ADHD are largely considered safe and don't cause heart problems for the average healthy child or adult. But it may be less safe for people with existing heart conditions. Here's what you need to know.

ADHD medications can affect the heart, but are mostly safe and effective

Many ADHD medications are stimulants, a type of drug that boosts alertness and energy. The most commonly prescribed ADHD medications are Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse, Adderall, Dexedrine, and Focalin.

These medications target the prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain controlling attention, personality expression, and decision making. That's why people with ADHD who take their medication can focus better in school and work than if they didn't have medication.

However, in addition to increased focus, ADHD medications, particularly Adderall, have been found to raise blood pressure and heart rate in children, teens, and adults. According to Alec Moorman, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Washington, they raise heart rate by five to 10 beats per minute and raise blood pressure by about five millimeters of mercury. "So the changes are small," Moorman says.

According to Ron Brown, MD, a pediatric psychologist and dean of the Integrated Health Sciences department at the University of Las Vegas, small increases in heart rate and blood pressure won't negatively impact most children, and these stimulants have largely proved safe and effective, as long as you follow a doctor's instructions for use.

ADHD medications may be unsafe for those with existing heart problems

"These medications are usually safe and can even be used in patients with a history of heart disease," says Moorman. "But you just have to be cautious … and avoid their use in patients with unstable heart conditions."

That's because the effects have a higher chance of potentially harming those at risk of heart attack or stroke - in these cases, small changes in heart rate and blood pressure are more dangerous. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or obesity, you should talk with your doctor before taking ADHD medication.

Brown says ADHD medications also carry more risks for those with congenital heart defects, a blood vessel disorder, or an overactive thyroid, and may also be unsafe for people with heart rhythm disorders like tachycardia.

Overall, research has not found evidence that ADHD medication causes heart problems

Otherwise, ADHD medications are generally considered safe. A 2011 study found that there was no increased risk of heart attack or stroke for those prescribed stimulants. Another study found that sudden cardiac deaths occurred in two children for every million taking ADHD medication, which is actually fewer than the rate for the general pediatric population.

In fact, Brown says other side effects like appetite suppression and weight loss are more concerning than the rare possibility of a dangerous cardiac event. If you or your child has ADHD and may be prescribed medication, you should talk with your doctor about previous medical history - especially unstable heart conditions - and any other concerns you might have.

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