ADHD medication could cause birth defects

Medication commonly used to treat ADHD could increase the risk of heart defects in infants, according to a new study.

The research, published today in JAMA Psychiatry, found that those exposed to methylphenidate drugs like Ritalin and Concerta during their first trimester were 28 percent more likely to give birth to a child with a congenital heart defect.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital collected data from more than four million American and Nordic women.

This means that for every 1,000 women treated with methylphenidate during the first 90 days of pregnancy, there were three infants born with a heart defect. 

Children exposed to ADHD drugs like Ritalin in the first trimester are more likely to have heart deformities, according to a new study by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (file image)

‘Although the absolute risk is small, it is nevertheless important evidence to consider when treating young women of reproductive age and pregnant women,’ researcher Dr Krista Huybrechts of Brigham and Women’s Hospital said.

The study also found that amphetamine did not increase the risk of heart defects.

ADHD is a chronic condition characterized by inattentiveness and impulsiveness. The disorder affects about 4.1 percent of US adults.

The number of people taking medication to treat ADHD is steadily rising. A 2014 report revealed that the number of American using ADHD medication rose 36 percent 2008 and 2012, with the biggest spike seen in young women between the ages of 19 and 34. 

Amphetamines and methylphenidate are stimulants that increase activity in the body. They are considered the first-line medication for managing ADHD.

‘Medications used to treat [ADHD] are increasingly used by women of childbearing age as well as by pregnant women,’ Dr William Cooper said in a commentary on the study.

‘Because nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned, women could be taking a prescription medication and become pregnant without being aware of the [associated] risks,’ Dr Cooper added.  

This isn’t the first study to link ADHD medication to heart risks.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology found that children taking ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Concerta are twice as likely to experience rare cardiac problems.

Another study published in The BMJ in 2016 found that cases of arrhythmia were more likely to occur during the first two months of my methylphenidate use. 

Researchers of the current study suggest women with mild to moderate ADHD symptoms may be able to forego treatment during pregnancy.

However, if expecting mothers suffer from severe ADHD symptoms researchers say it may be important for them to continue using their medication throughout pregnancy.