Blood pressure and heart rate over 10 years in the multimodal treatment study of children with ADHD

Benedetto Vitiello, Glen R. Elliott, James M. Swanson, L. Eugene Arnold, Lily Hechtman, Howard Abikoff, Brooke S.G. Molina, Karen Wells, Timothy Wigal, Peter S. Jensen, Laurence L. Greenhill, Jonathan R. Kaltman, Joanne B. Severe, Carol Odbert, Kwan Hur, Robert Gibbons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Objective: It is unknown whether prolonged childhood exposure to stimulant medication for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increases the risk for developing abnormalities in blood pressure or heart rate. The authors examined the association between stimulant medication and blood pressure and heart rate over 10 years. Method: A total of 579 children, ages 7-9, were randomly assigned to 14 months of medication treatment, behavioral therapy, the combination of the two, or usual community treatment. The controlled trial was followed by naturalistic treatment with periodic assessments. Blood pressure and heart rate data were first analyzed with linear regression models based on an intent-to-treat approach, using raw data and the blood pressure categories of prehypertension and hypertension. Currently medicated patients were then compared with never or previously medicated patients. Associations between cumulative stimulant exposure and blood pressure or heart rate were assessed. Results: No treatment effect on either systolic or diastolic blood pressure could be detected. Children who were treated with stimulants had a higher heart rate (mean=84.2 bpm [SD=12.4] on medication alone and mean=84.6 bpm [SD=12.2] on medication plus behavioral therapy) than those who were treated with behavioral therapy alone (mean=79.1 bpm [SD=12.0]) or those who received usual community treatment (mean=78.9 bpm [SD=12.9]) at the end of the 14-month controlled trial, but not thereafter. Stimulant medication did not increase the risk for tachycardia, but greater cumulative stimulant exposure was associated with a higher heart rate at years 3 and 8. Conclusions: Stimulant treatment did not increase the risk for prehypertension or hypertension over the 10-year period of observation. However, stimulants had a persistent adrenergic effect on heart rate during treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-177
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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