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Heart Tests For ADHD Drugs?

April 23, 2008, 6:15 PM by Jaine Andrews

Heart Tests For ADHD Drugs?
Children diagnosed with attention deficit disorders are often prescribed stimulants, such as Adderall, Strattera, Concerta or Ritalin to treat the condition. But according to the American Heart Association, certain steps should be taken before your child pops one of these pills.

There's little doubt that medications like these can do a lot of good in helping certain children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD control their impulses. Dr. Jerry Blake a developmental specialist with Sanford Children's Specialty Clinic says, "They have a mild, very mild stimulatory effect on the cardiovascular system, but they have a much more profound affect on the brain. And they work really pretty fast." 

But, according to some experts, those same pills may pose problems if pre-existing heart conditions are left undiagnosed. Dr. Theresa Stamato, a pediatric cardiologist with Sanford Children's Specialty Clinic says, "in most cases, in most children it's not a problem at all. Very rarely though in some children, it can be a problem where it will actually raise their heart rate or their blood pressure to the point where they can have a life-threatening arrhythmia." 

For the first time, the American Heart Association is urging the wide use of an electrocardiogram--which charts the electrical activity in the heart-- to screen for possible problems. But there's already debate among experts about whether there's any value to testing such a large pool of patients for a rare condition. Blake says, "It's not real practical and it's not real cost-effective to do it on all the kids that have ADHD." 

Currently, more than 2.5 million children take such drugs, yet records show there have been fewer than 30 deaths among kids prescribed them since 1999. And since each ECG costs around $100 dollars, experts say this could be a $250 million recommendation. Stamato says, "It can be very costly, but it's worth saving the life of one child. And I think that would be worth the cost." 

So what's a parent to do? Doctors here at Sanford Children's Specialty Clinic say if you're concerned, talk with your doctor about your child's use of stimulant medications and their heart.

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