Effects of ADHD Treatment May Vary Over Time
ADHD Medications Effective, but May Also Stunt Growth
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ADHD Medications May Stunt Growth
The study also showed that children who took ADHD medications grew at an average of 5 centimeters per year compared with the 6 centimeters per year seen in unmedicated children.
Researchers say those findings are in line with previous studies that have shown similar short-term effects on growth. But this is the first major long-term study to show the effect for two years of using the drugs.
"We want to be cautious because we don't know if in the long run children might catch up or not," says Swanson. For example, he says that children using ADHD medications might only experience a delay in growth that only very long-term studies might be able to pick up.
Interestingly, researchers also found that unmedicated children with ADHD actually tended to grow taller than children without the condition, which suggests that any potential negative effect of ADHD medications on growth may be less obvious in these children.
"Whether that's going to outweigh the clear benefits that I think this study and many others have shown for using medication in the treatment of ADHD over the long-term is one of those things that we will have to continue to look at," says researcher Glen R. Elliott, MD, PhD, director of the Children's Center at Langley Porter, University of California, San Francisco.
Any ADHD Info Is Good Info
Experts say that although this study doesn't necessarily compare the effectiveness of one ADHD treatment versus another, the fact that it provides long-term data on the effects of treating children with ADHD is significant in itself.
"It is amazing that regardless of how common this condition is, and how often times young people are prescribed medicine for this, there really is such a paucity of long-term effectiveness or safety data," says Robert Findling, MD, director of child and adolescent psychology, University Hospitals of Cleveland.
Findling says this study may also help parents of children with ADHD weigh treatment options.
"Over time, if your child is doing well on [ADHD] medicines, the odds that they should continue on those medicines," says Findling. "It appears that kids who stay on medications do best over time, and with that comes risk of what appears to be risk of a potential for a slight reduction in growth velocity.
"Ultimately at this point, there is no right or wrong," says Findling. "But more important than anything else is that it provides valuable information for parents, physicians, and young patients that will help inform them, and that really ultimately is the answer."