ADHD Meds May Hike Kids’ Heart Risks

Dr. Jennifer Ashton Discusses New Research Linking Stimulant Drugs and Sudden Death.

(CBS) Are ADHD medications safe for children?

Research released Monday by The American Journal of Psychiatry gives more support to the claim that stimulant drugs usually prescribed for ADHD could increase the risk of sudden unexplained death in children.

On The Early Show Monday, CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton what the study might mean for the 2.5 million children taking medication for the disorder.

The study found the rate of stimulant use in children and adolescents who died suddenly or from cardiac dysrhythmia was 1.8 percent, compared to 0.4 percent for youth who died as passengers in motor vehicle accidents.

Ashton said all the drugs commonly prescribed to children with ADHD are amphetamines. While amphetamines have been shown to give children the ability to keep focus and attention, Ashton said they can increase heart rate and blood pressure.

“(Amphetamines) do have very potent effects on the body,” she said.

Ashton told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen there is still a questionable increased risk of sudden death with amphetamine drugs, and this study is the latest to show the association between these drugs and sudden death.

Ashton said there are certain children who are more susceptible to sudden cardiac arrest and death. She suggested that, before children go on these medications, their doctors should look at family history of the child, including cardiac death, fainting spells or cardiac problems in rhythm or heart rate. Ashton said, in some cases, further studies, such as an electrocardiogram or EKG, should be conducted.

Ashton said you shouldn’t stop any of your child’s medications until you speak with his or her pediatrician about the risks. She said if an EKG is done, make sure it’s monitored by a pediatric cardiologist “because there can be a wide range of normal.”

Ashton said alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care or dietary changes, are also available for children with ADHD. She said they can be used as a replacement or compliment to their current treatment.

As with all drugs, Ahston suggested you should “explore your options (with ADHD medications) and weigh the risks versus the benefits.”

Click here for the video report.