While ADHD is often associated with behavioral and academic challenges, recent research has also found that individuals with ADHD may be at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).
CVD refers to a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke. According to the World Health Organization, CVD is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 17.9 million deaths annually.
In one study, recently published in the journal World Psychiatry, researchers collected data on more than 5 million adults, 37,000 of whom had ADHD. During an average 12 years of follow-up, 38% of those with ADHD developed cardiovascular disease, compared with 23.5% of those without ADHD.
The risks among those with ADHD were particularly high for
- Cardiac arrest
- Hemorrhagic stroke
- Peripheral vascular diseases
The association was stronger among men than women, and eating disorders and drug addiction also upped the chances of cardiovascular disease among those with ADHD.
The Risk Factors
The link between ADHD and CVD is still being studied, but researchers have identified several potential factors that may contribute to this increased risk.
One of the most significant factors is the high prevalence of comorbid conditions in individuals with ADHD. Comorbid conditions refer to the presence of two or more medical or psychiatric conditions in the same individual. Research has found that individuals with ADHD are more likely to have comorbid conditions that are risk factors for CVD, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
These conditions can contribute to the development of CVD by increasing inflammation and damaging the walls of blood vessels.
Another factor is the use of stimulant medications to treat ADHD. Stimulants are the most common medications used to treat ADHD, but they can have cardiovascular side effects. These medications can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and the risk of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). While the risk of these side effects is generally considered low, individuals with preexisting cardiovascular conditions may be at a higher risk.
Additionally, individuals with ADHD may engage in unhealthy behaviors that increase their risk of CVD. For example, research has found that individuals with ADHD are more likely to smoke, consume alcohol, and engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse and unprotected sex. These behaviors can contribute to the development of CVD by damaging blood vessels and increasing inflammation.
Improving Your Cardiovascular Health
Given the potential link between ADHD and CVD, it is important for individuals with ADHD to be aware of their cardiovascular health and take steps to reduce their risk. This may include adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors such as:
- Exercising regularly,
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Losing weight
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol consumption
It’s also important to work closely with your care team to assess and monitor your cardiovascular health. This includes:
- Getting a baseline cardiac workup
- Checking with relatives about heart disease in the family since most of the risk of heart disease is genetic
- Regularly monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels
- Discussing the risks and benefits of stimulant medications with your healthcare provider
While the links between ADHD and CVD is still being studied, current research suggests that people with ADHD may be at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This makes it essential for individuals with ADHD to prioritize their cardiovascular health and take proactive steps to reduce their risk of CVD.