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Researchers warn of heart health risk for Ritalin users



New research demonstrates a link between common ADHD medication and adverse cardiovascular events in children, contradicting previous observational studies.

The collaborative project led by University of South Australia researchers uncovered a small, but significant, increased risk of arrhythmia for some children who had been prescribed with methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin.

Professor Libby Roughhead of UniSA’s Sansom Institute for Health Research says that the risks to children remain low, but nevertheless the research suggests they exist.

“This is not an argument for taking children off the medication, which has proven to be effective for children who have severe forms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder),” Prof Roughead says.

“What it does suggest, is that children should have a thorough check of their cardiovascular health before starting on this ADHD medication, and monitoring of their blood pressure and heart rate after starting treatment.”

Accessing the South Korean National Health Insurance Database, UniSA researchers extracted information on 1,224 cardiac events from a total population of 114,647 patients aged 17 or younger who were newly treated with methylphenidate between 2008 and 2011.

The data revealed cases of arrhythmia were significantly more likely to occur during the first two months of using methylphenidate compared with periods of non-use. The period of greatest risk was found to be in the first three days of use and was generally more pronounds in children with existing congenital heart disease.

“What I think the study underlines is the need to consider the severity of ADHD symptoms and the option of non-stimulant treatments for children with high cardiovascular risk.

“We also need to closely monitor those children and adolescents for whom methylphenidate is the most effective treatment to maintain their well-being and development.”

The collaboration included teams from Lady Davis Research Institute, Kewish General Hospital (Montreal), the Departments of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University (Montreal); the Department of Preventative Medicine, Seoul National University (Korea); and the School of Pharmacy at UniSA.


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