As if having an ADHD nervous system were not hard enough, research now shows that having the disorder nearly doubles the risk of heart disease, regardless of a person’s age, gender, or ADHD medication use.
In a study of 5 million adolescents and adults from Sweden, researchers found that having any mental health condition increased the risk for all cardiovascular conditions — and that risk more than doubled for those with ADHD and one or more co-existing conditions. Surprisingly, the greatest risk was in young adults and not in the elderly. While the cause is not yet known (a genetic predisposition is likely), we can now see that the risk is broad and substantial.
How Comorbidities Complicate Heart Health
The incidence of heart disease was 1.8 times higher among people with ADHD than it was in the general population, with cardiac arrest and strokes posing the greatest risk. If a person has ADHD and a co-existing mental health condition, the risk of heart disease more than doubles. For those with substance use disorder, the risk increases 2.53-fold; eating disorder increases the risk 2.75-fold; conduct disorder boosts it 2.79-fold.
The study also confirmed previous findings that men faced higher risk than did women throughout the lifespan.
[Read: ADHD Medication Not Associated with Cardiovascular Risk at Any Age]
Many people want to ignore or deny the seriousness, and even the existence, of ADHD to justify not treating their own and/or their child’s ADHD. The Swedish study should raise awareness and a sense of urgency about the necessity of making good lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking and substance use, eating healthy, and exercising, all of which have been shown to protect against many illnesses.
Treating ADHD Decreases Your Risk
It is important to emphasize that medication treatment of ADHD and other mental health conditions effectively decreased the risk of heart disease in many cases. The research also emphasized that ADHD and other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, should be aggressively treated with medication to protect against the well-known risks posed by the conditions.
6 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health
Mitigate the risk for heart disease by doing the following:
- Establish ongoing care with a clinician who can guide you toward a more balanced lifestyle.
- Get a baseline cardiac workup, especially if you’re a young male adult.
- Ask relatives about heart disease in the family. Most of the risk of heart disease is genetic. This can help you to assess your individual risk.
- Exercise regularly.
- If necessary, lose weight on a healthy, balanced diet.
- Use a pill box to assist you in taking all of your medications consistently.
[Read: The Dopamine Deficiency That’s Sabotaging Your Diet]
This new information confirms much of what we already know: People with ADHD and other mental health conditions can lead healthy and fulfilling lives when they protect their health and wellbeing.
Heart Health and ADHD: Next Steps
William W. Dodson, M.D., LF-APA, is a board-certified adult psychiatrist and one of the first practitioners to specialize in treating adults with ADHD.
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