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Stimulant drugs may carry risk of sudden death in children

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A new study suggests that children who take stimulant medications such as Ritalin, Strattera, or Concerta may have a slight increased risk for sudden death.

Researchers from the New York State Psychiatric Institute compared medical records of 564 children who experienced sudden death with a similar number of children who had died in car accidents. Results showed stimulant use was greater among kids who experienced sudden death – 1.8 percent versus 0.4 percent.

Experts say it’s possible that stimulants may exacerbate hidden, underlying heart disorders. They recommend parents tell doctors if there have been cases of sudden, unexplained deaths in the family, adults included. Physicians may then wish to perform an ECG to look for heart abnormalities in the child.

But doctors also want parents keep these new findings in perspective – only a few dozen children each year experienced unexplained sudden death, and a tiny percentage of these had any link to stimulants. They recommend discussing the risks and benefits of stimulants with your child’s doctor both before treatment and periodically thereafter to ensure proper treatment.

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Story summary

Stimulant drugs are widely prescribed to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they are proven to help kids focus. But a new study suggests the medications may also carry a slight risk for sudden death in kids and teens.

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