ADHD Drugs: Heart Screen Recommended
American Heart Association Calls for Electrocardiograms Before Kids Take ADHD Drugs
ECG Should Be Routine
The AHA panel's pretreatment recommendations include:
- Taking a thorough medical history prior to treatment, with special
attention given to symptoms that might indicate heart problems, such as heart
palpitations, high blood pressure, heart murmur, fainting or near-fainting
episodes, chest pain, or unexplained change in exercise
- Review of all current medications including prescription, over-the-counter
preparations, and health supplements.
- Careful evaluation for a family history of sudden death, serious rhythm
abnormalities, heart muscle disorders (cardiomyopathy), or Marfan's
- A physical exam, including assessment of blood pressure and heart
- An ECG to identify or rule out heart problems. The electrocardiogram should
be read by a pediatric cardiologist or a doctor with expertise in reading
- Referral to a pediatric cardiologist if the pretreatment evaluation shows
cause for concern.
"We are not saying that if all these things can't be done, kids
shouldn't be put on medication," Vetter says. "A child who lives in
rural Kentucky may not have access to a pediatric ECG. We are going to have to
figure out how to address the access issue."
Furthermore, even if heart disease is identified, treatment may still be
used with careful monitoring. "It is reasonable to use stimulants with
caution in patients with known congenital heart disease and/or arrhythmias, if
these patients are stable and under the care of a pediatric cardiologist,"
the panel notes.
The AHA has also called for periodic cardiac evaluations of patients taking
ADHD drugs. The guideline states that blood pressure and pulse should be
evaluated during routine follow-up visits (every one to three months).
The guideline also recommends that a repeat ECG be considered after the age of
12 if the initial treatment ECG was obtained before 12 years of age.
Finally, patients currently taking stimulant medications who have not undergone
ECG testing in the past should have an ECG performed.
Panel members also called for the establishment of a registry to track
sudden cardiac deaths (SCD) in children, teens, and young adults.
"Such a registry, even if comprehensively maintained over a short period
of time, would allow a more accurate understanding of many questions related to
sudden cardiac death, including the potential association of stimulant drugs
and SCD," Vetter and colleagues write.
WebMD contacted the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
(PhRMA) about the AHA's new guidelines. In an email, PhRMA spokesman Jeff
Trewhitt says that PhRMA's medical staff is still reviewing the guidelines.
WebMD spoke with Robert H. Beekman, MD, chairman of the American Academy of
Pediatrics' section on cardiology and cardiac surgery, about the AHA's new
"The American Heart Association proposal is reasonable and represents
the cautious opinion of a number of national experts," says Beekman, who
works at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
"There are concerns among some cardiologists, however, that widespread
screening with electrocardiograms may generate quite a few false-positive
findings, which could lead to a lot of parental concern and a lot of
expense," Beekman says. "I think it will be critical after a period of
time has passed for the American Heart Association to study the true impact of
this new recommendation."
Electrocardiogram readings "vary considerably among normal
children," Beekman explains. "What is normal is variable by age, by
race, by gender -- and there are common false-positives that turn out to be
misleading once somebody delves into them."
But Beekman notes that "in the face of a formal American Heart
Association policy statement that's published and released to the lay public,
it will be hard to not practice medicine in a fashion that's aligned with the
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With additional reporting by Miranda Hitti.