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Cardiac evaluation of patients receiving pharmacotherapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Stuart Berger, MD
Section Editor
John K Triedman, MD
Deputy Editor
Carrie Armsby, MD, MPH


Reports of sudden unexpected deaths (SUD) among patients taking stimulant drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have led to concerns regarding the safety of psychotropic medications. In particular, the question of whether or not stimulant drugs increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular events has led to a debate on the appropriate evaluation to identify patients with undiagnosed at-risk congenital heart disease and/or arrhythmias prior to starting a patient on medications for the treatment of ADHD.

The risk of sudden cardiac death in patients receiving stimulant medications for ADHD and the cardiac evaluation of these patients will be reviewed here. The pharmacotherapy for ADHD is discussed in greater detail separately. (See "Pharmacology of drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents".)


ADHD is a common childhood disorder affecting up to 10 percent of all school-aged children. Stimulant drugs including methylphenidate (Ritalin, Methylin, Concerta, Focalin, Metadate), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and mixed amphetamine salts (eg, Adderall) are effective in improving behavior in these patients. (See "Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Epidemiology and pathogenesis", section on 'Epidemiology' and "Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Treatment with medications", section on 'Stimulants versus other medications'.)

Reports of unexpected deaths of children receiving stimulant therapy have led to concerns that these medications increase the risk of cardiovascular (CV) adverse events, including sudden unexpected deaths (SUD) [1,2]. However, large cohort studies have not shown an increased risk of serious CV adverse events in children treated with stimulant therapy compared with the general pediatric population, as discussed in the following section.

Children without cardiac disease — Based on the available evidence, it appears that children without cardiac disease who receive stimulant therapy are not at increased risk for CV events compared with the general pediatric population.

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 01, 2017.
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