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Important First Step: Pre-Screen Children Before Prescribing Ritalin


If you have kids or grandkids, you’ve probably heard about or know about the drug Ritalin. Ritalin is a popular prescription drug used to treat hyperactivity and ADD (attention-deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). But you may not know an important step that does not always take place before a child is prescribed this drug. What is this vital step? Let’s take a closer look at the potentially harmful missing piece of the puzzle . . .

Ritalin and Heart Problems
In an article posted at CNN.com (dated April 29, 2008), The American Heart Association recommended all children should be pre-screened for potential heart problems – and undergo electrocardiogram testing – before taking this type of medication.

Why the concern now? After all, doesn’t just about everyone know someone who has given or is giving Ritalin (or the same type of medication) to their child?  

The reason is simple. Research reveals that children with heart problems, who are taking Ritalin, are more susceptible to a sudden heart attack, erratic heartbeat and other cardiac conditions.  Ritalin is in a category of drugs called “stimulants.” Stimulants can (and often do) increase heart rate along with blood pressure.  For most kids, this is not a problem at all.  If, however, a child has a heart condition, you certainly want to know before administering any type of stimulant medication.

The federal government estimates that more than 2.5 million children and 1.5 million adults in the U.S.A. are being medicated for ADD and ADHD. That adds up to about 4 million people being treated for this disorder in a nation of just over 300 million. Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin (all in the class of stimulant medications) help children with ADD and ADHD keep their behavior under control and to remain focused.

These medications do already carry warning labels about the possible risk to those with heart problems. However, it should be noted that warning labels were added after a study by the FDA discovered reports of 19 sudden deaths of children being treated with ADHD medication.  The FDA’s study also found 26 reports of other problems in this group of children – among them rapid heart beat and stroke. The data was collected during the period from 1999-2003. 

The American Heart Association is now taking the precautions further; recommending a complete physical, asking patients for a thorough family history and issuing an EKG before a child is put on any of these drugs. This is certainly one of those instances when the old adage applies: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Dr. Victoria Vetter, head of the committee making this recommendation, is also a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  Dr. Vetter states “We don’t want to keep children who have this condition from being treated. We want to do it as safely as possible.”  She advised that in a group of 1,100 children tested, about 2 percent were diagnosed with some type of heart problem. Vetter has also said if a heart condition is uncovered, most often the drugs can still be administered with careful monitoring. It was also her recommendation that children already taking this type of medication should be tested.

Some medical professionals have expressed concern that children may go without medication because their families might not have access to or be able to afford an EKG. But the importance of the screening still remains.

If you have children on Ritalin, or a Ritalin-type drug, you may want to have them screened as soon as you can. After all, your child’s health is nothing to compromise.



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