ADHD may double likelihood of heart disease warns study

Professor Hugh Watkins on genetic medicines for heart disease

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Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopment condition that affects some 1.5 million people in the UK. The main features of the disorder, which are found in its name, consist mainly of inattention and hyperactivity. Although the condition often starts in childhood, it can continue and predispose adults to cardiovascular complications, according to new findings.

Published in the journal World Psychiatry, the findings of a large observational study suggest adults with ADHD could be twice as likely to develop a range of cardiovascular diseases, compared to those without the condition.

The study’s first author, Lin Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, at Karolinska Institutet, said: “We found that adults with ADHD were more than twice as likely to develop at least one cardiovascular disease, compared with those without ADHD.

“When we accounted for other well-established risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, the association weakened but still remained significant, which individual that ADHD is an independent risk fact for a wide range of cardiovascular diseases”.

The findings emerged from a study of five million Swedish adults, 37,000 of whom were diagnosed with ADHD.

Researchers assessed the correlation between ADHD and some 20 different cardiovascular diseases.

During the 11.8-year follow-up, 38 percent of individuals with ADHD were diagnosed with at least one cardiovascular disease, compared with 24 percent of those without ADHD.

The study’s last author, Henrik Larsson, professor at the School of Medical Sciences, Örebro University, and affiliated researchers at Karolinska Institutet, said doctors should consider neurodevelopmental issues like ADHD to reduce heart disease risk.

He said: “Clinicians need to carefully consider physiatrics comorbidity and lifestyle factors to help reduce the cardiovascular disease risk in individuals with ADHD, but we also need more research to explore plausible biological mechanisms, such as shared genetic components for ADHD and cardiovascular disease”.

The risk was high for all types of cardiovascular diseases but it was particularly elevated for cardiac arrest, hemorrhagic stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.

What’s more, the association appeared somewhat stronger in men than it did in women.

ADHD patients with additional psychiatric conditions, such as eating disorders, had a risk higher still.

Treatment with stimulants, which has previously been identified as a risk factor for heart attack, did not materially affect the association between ADHD and cardiovascular disease in the study.

In the latest research, however, treatment with stimulants and other psychiatric drugs did not naturally affect the association between ADHD and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers did note that some of the study’s limitations, including a lack of data on some lifestyle-related factors, could impact the association.

What causes ADHD?

According to Harvard Health: “The causes of ADHD are not fully understood. There are numerous factors that are associated with the development of ADHD.

“It may be difficult to avoid these factors, but addressing them may reduce the risk of developing the disorder.”

Some modifiable risk factors for the condition may include the mother’s use of tobacco or alcohol during pregnancy, and exposure to neurotoxins, such as lead.

ADHD can cause emotional, social and education problems, but an early diagnosis can help circumvent some of these issues.

“When ADHD is diagnosed early and treated properly, the condition can be managed effectively, so children can grow up to have productive, successful and fulfilling lives,” notes Harvard Health.

“Although some children appear to grow out of their ADHD as they reach their adolescent years, others have lifelong symptoms.”

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