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ADHD Medication and Sudden Death

Though a new study finds an increase in cardiac death in children taking ADHD medications, the FDA says the study had limitations that preclude such a conclusion.

Wednesday June 17th - 10:19am

A recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that children taking stimulant medications for attention deficit disorder were seven times more likely to die than children who were not taking the drugs.

According to Madelyn Gould, Ph.D., author of the study and a professor of clinical epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City, children taking medication should stay the course. Parents, though, should make sure that the child’s doctor takes all the recommended steps to screen for the heart problems associated with sudden death.

The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that doctors should screen children for heart problems before they’re prescribed stimulants for ADHD—and monitor children while they’re taking them.

Screening should include:

  • A medical history for cardiovascular disease in the child and his or her family.
  • A physical exam with special focus on the cardiovascular system (including examination for signs of Marfan syndrome, a hereditary disorder that increases the risk of heart problems).
  • Further tests, such as a screening electrocardiogram and echocardiogram if the history or examination suggests underlying risk for or the presence of heart disease.

Gould says parents of children taking stimulants shouldn’t panic. “Parents should take comfort in good clinical practice and not be reluctant to put their kids on medication,” Gould says. In light of the research, doctors just need to do their jobs.

Read about the study and the FDA's statement.

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