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Do ADHD Drugs Stunt Kids' Growth?

Kids on ADHD Drugs Are Shorter and Thinner, New Analysis Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 1, 2006 - Kids who take stimulant drugs for their ADHD are shorter and lighter than their peers, a review of existing studies concludes.

It's one of the most controversial aspects of treatment for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Stimulant drugs can be a great benefit to these kids. They also have side effects. One of these effects is a reduced appetite. For that reason, it's often been suggested that kids taking ADHD drugs may not grow as fast as they should.

Since the 1960s, researchers have studied the issue. About half the studies show ADHD drugs don't have much, if any, effect on growth. Other studies show a significant effect.

It's hard to compare these studies because they look at different drugs, in different-aged kids, using different ways of defining "normal" height and weight, says Omar Khwaja, MD, PhD, a fellow in neonatal neurology at Children's Hospital, Boston.

New Approach to Data

Khwaja and colleagues took a new tack. After looking at 845 published articles, they found 22 studies with data they could extract. A new analysis of the data showed that kids on ADHD drugs are shorter and weigh less than they should.

"We have been able to clarify previously conflicting studies, showing that ADHD drugs have significant restricting effects on height and weight," Khwaja tells WebMD. "It was slightly more for weight than for height, and slightly more for amphetamines -- but also significant for Ritalin-like drugs. So for a 10-year-old boy on these drugs for a year, there is a 1- to 2-centimeter [two-fifths to four-fifths of an inch] restriction in height."

Khwaja and colleagues reported their findings at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, held April 29-May 2 in San Francisco.

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