Study: ADHD medications may cause heart problems for kids


A new study has found a connection between a popular drug used to treat ADHD and an increased risk for abnormal heart rhythm. 

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ADHD drug could pose heart-related risks for kids

The study analyzed 114,600 kids aged 17 or younger from the South Korea National Health Insurance Database who were recently prescribed the ADHD drug. At least 1,224 cardiac events had occurred between 2008 and 2011, including heart rhythm problems, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and heart failure.

Study findings revealed that kids and teens who were prescribed Ritalin, Daytrana or Concerta (brand names for methylphenidate) had a 61% increased risk of arrhythmias during the first two months of use. 

‘Parents should not stop the medicine, but discuss this study and their concerns with their doctor or pediatrician,’ said study author Nicole Pratt, a senior research fellow at the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Center at the University of South Australia. ‘Children should be closely monitored for any signs or symptoms of cardiac effects.’

Though study findings reveal heart health risks, doctors say parents should not take children immediately off ADHD drugs if they are taking them, since doing so may cause severe depression according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. But, it is a good reminder to only consider drugs like methylphenidate as a last option for treatment. 

‘I’ve always said to parents that you have to weigh the pros and cons, based on the severity of their disease,’ said Dr. Kabir Bhasin, director of clinical education for cardiac electrophysiology at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. ‘If someone has very severe ADHD and this is really the only treatment option, you have to take that into account. But we’ve known for a while that this drug is not as effective as initially thought, so whenever possible I always tell them to reserve it as a last option.’

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Children with existing heart congenial heart disease most at risk

The study also found that children with existing congenial heart disease have an increased risk three times that of other kids. 


‘Children on these medicines should have [their] blood pressure and heart rate monitored to help mitigate potential risk,’ said Pratt. ‘Health professionals also need to consider the risk/benefit balance in children with prior history of heart disease or children on medicines that can affect [heart rhythm], particularly where symptoms of ADHD are mild.’

But even though the study found that methylphenidate increases the risk of heart conditions in kids, researchers stress that the risk is very small.  

‘In the average child, the risk of serious cardiovascular events is extremely small [three per 100,000 per year], and any absolute excess risk associated with methylphenidate is also likely to be small,’ said Pratt.

According to Harvard epidemiologist John Jackson, about half of all kids diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. received a stimulant drug in 2011, about 3.5 million kids. 

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