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Stimulant Medication Safety and Side Effects

Several Groups Say Screening for Heart Conditions Is Useful But Not Mandatory

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Updated June 19, 2009

Clarifying Guidelines on ECG Monitoring for ADHD Children

Several groups say screening for heart conditions is useful, but not mandatory. On April 21, 2008, the American Heart Association released a statement about the importance of cardiovascular evaluation and monitoring of children taking stimulant medications for the treatment of ADHD. Since then, there have been conflicting interpretations of the recommendations regarding the use of an electrocardiogram. Click on AHA Recommendations to read more about the original statement.

On May 16, 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and AHA released a joint advisory to clarify recommendations. Below are the essential points:

  • The scientific statement included a review of data that show children with heart conditions have a higher incidence of ADHD.

  • Because certain heart conditions in children may be difficult (even, in some cases, impossible) to detect, the AAP and AHA feel that it is prudent to carefully assess children for heart conditions who need to receive treatment with drugs for ADHD.

  • Obtaining a patient and family health history and doing a physical exam focused on cardiovascular disease risk factors (Class I recommendations in the statement) are recommended by the AAP and AHA for assessing patients before treatment with drugs for ADHD.

  • Acquiring an ECG is a Class IIa recommendation. This means that it is reasonable for a physician to consider obtaining an ECG as part of the evaluation of children being considered for stimulant drug therapy, but this should be at the physician’s judgment, and it is not mandatory to obtain one.

  • Treatment of a patient with ADHD should not be withheld because an ECG is not done. The child’s physician is the best person to make the assessment about whether there is a need for an ECG.

  • Medications that treat ADHD have not been shown to cause heart conditions nor have they been demonstrated to cause sudden cardiac death. However, some of these medications can increase or decrease heart rate and blood pressure. While these side effects are not usually considered dangerous, they should be monitored in children with heart conditions as the physician feels necessary.

    This clarification has been endorsed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American College of Cardiology, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) and the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality.

    Additional Reading:
    Treatment of ADHD

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