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Growing Up With Ritalin: Just How Much Will One Grow?

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WebMD Health News

May 4, 2000 --For a quarter of a century, Ritalin has been shadowed by the possibilities that the drug may permanently suppress the height or weight of children. That's not necessarily so, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry.

"Medicated individuals who had attained their final stature did not differ in average height or weight from family, community, or unmedicated [people]. Most aspects of medication were not associated with adult height or weight," writes lead author John R. Kramer, PhD, department of psychiatry at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Ritalin, a mind-altering stimulant, is the most heavily prescribed medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition that affects about 4% to 6% of the U.S. population, children and adults alike. That figure goes up to about 12% when it only includes school-aged children. Common symptoms are being easily distracted, impulsive, hyper, and suffering from frequent frustration.

Co-author Jan Loney, PhD, tells WebMD, "this is one of the first studies of what the effects of childhood Ritalin are on growth among boys who have become adults, [who have] reached their ultimate growth. There have been studies of adolescents, but as far as we know, this is the first one of actual adults." Loney is with the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The researchers followed almost 100 boys from childhood to adulthood. Girls were not included in the study because of their different weight and height profiles. The boys, who were aged 4 to 12 years old at the beginning of the study, exhibited symptoms of ADHD and were treated with Ritalin for an average of three years.

The study's participants were followed until between the ages of 21 and 23, and half of them were evaluated again between the ages of 28 and 32. Because their heights did not vary as adults, Kramer writes the data suggests the men had reached their "complete stature."

Loney says they looked at several comparison groups as well. "We were able to compare the height and weight of these boys with the height and weight of their fathers ... with a group of their brothers who did not have behavior problems, with national norms, and with boys who had similar behavior problems but did not receive [Ritalin]."

"In all of those cases, the heights and weights were essentially the same, so it doesn't look as if there's a major difference between those Ritalin-treated boys and any of those comparison groups," Loney tells WebMD.

However, two factors did account for a significant difference in height and weight at age 21, writes Kramer. Nausea and vomiting, which can occur with higher doses of Ritalin, were associated with smaller stature in adulthood. If a study participant had initial nausea, they were predicted to be shorter at age 21 by an average of 2.6 inches; if they took high doses of the drug, they were predicted to be nine pounds lighter at 21.

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