Drugs like methylphenidate and amphetamines, as well as non-stimulants such as atomoxetine, speed up the cardiovascular (CV) system. Though not hemodynamically significant — 3-5 beats per minute in heart rate and 2-4 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 1-3 mm Hg in diastolic2 — these increases raise the issue of potential adverse cardiac events.
The concerns were heightened when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed reports of sudden deaths between 1999 and 2003, and found 25 cases in patients treated with stimulants: 8 of them while on methylphenidate (7 pediatric and 1 adult) and 17 on amphetamine (12 children and 5 adults).2 In addition, 43 people (26 kids) experienced CV events such as strokes, cardiac arrest and heart palpitations. Subsequently, it turned out that most of these children had underlying structural heart defects, though the information wasn’t available for all patients.
Following this, Health Canada in 2005 removed Adderall XR from the market, only to reinstate it 6 months later with the warning: “Sudden death has been reported with amphetamine treatment at therapeutic doses in children with structural cardiac abnormalities. Adderall XR (mixed salts amphetamine extended-release capsules) generally should not be used in patients with structural cardiac abnormalities.” This warning has now been added to all stimulant and non-stimulant medications used for ADHD. After a flurry of articles and discussions, the consensus is that the benefits of treating ADHD far outweigh the risks.2