Heart rate variability and methylphenidate in children with ADHD

  • Reiner Buchhorn
  • Annette Conzelmann
  • Christian Willaschek
  • Dagmar Störk
  • Regina Taurines
  • Tobias J. Renner
Original Article


Although an extensive number of studies support the efficacy and tolerability of stimulants in the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in recent years, increasing concerns have been raised about their cardiovascular safety. We investigated whether a time domain analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) recordings in 24-h ECG under medication with stimulants yielded new information about therapy control in ADHD. We analysed the HRV parameter standard deviation of all normal sinus RR intervals over 24 h (SDNN), percentage of successive normal sinus RR intervals > 50 ms (pNN50) and root-mean-square of the successive normal sinus RR interval difference (rMSSD) from 23 children diagnosed by ADHD (19 boys and 4 girls), aged 10.5 ± 2.2 years, who were consecutively referred to our outpatient clinic for paediatric cardiology. Eleven children received medication with methylphenidate (MPH), while twelve children were initially examined without medication. Of these, eight probands were re-examined after therapy with MPH was established. Controls comprised 19 children (10 boys, 9 girls) from our Holter ECG data base without any cardiac or circulatory disease. Compared to healthy controls, the ADHD children with and without MPH treatment showed significantly higher mean heart rates (ADHD without MPH: 94.3 ± 2.2; ADHD with MPH: 90.5 ± 1.8, controls: 84.7 ± 1.8). pNN50 (ADHD without MPH: 6.5 ± 2.7; ADHD with MPH: 14.2 ± 6.9, controls: 21.5 ± 9.0) and rMSSD (ADHD without MPH: 26.1 ± 4.1; ADHD with MPH: 36.7 ± 8.3, controls: 44.5 ± 10.1) were lowest in ADHD children without MPH, middle in ADHD children with MPH and highest in controls. SDNN values were not significantly different. The hourly analysis shows highly significant reduced pNN50 and rMSSD values in untreated ADHD children between 5:00 pm and 6:00 am while the pattern approaches to levels of controls during MPH treatment. Data of this pilot study indicate a decreased vagal tone with significantly diminished HRV and higher heart rates in unmedicated ADHD children. These parameters of autonomic activation are ameliorated by MPH treatment. No evidence for negative impact of MPH on HRV was detected. Further studies will clarify a potential cardio-protective effect of MPH in ADHD.


ADHD Methylphenidate Heart rate variability Sudden cardiac death Psychostimulants Autonomic regulation Vagal tone 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reiner Buchhorn
    • 1
    • 4
  • Annette Conzelmann
    • 2
  • Christian Willaschek
    • 1
  • Dagmar Störk
    • 3
  • Regina Taurines
    • 3
  • Tobias J. Renner
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PaediatricsCaritas KrankenhausBad MergentheimGermany
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology, Clinical Psychology, and PsychotherapyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  3. 3.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and PsychotherapyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  4. 4.Klinik für Kinder- und JugendmedizinCaritas KrankenhausBad MergentheimGermany

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