Methylphenidate, which is a central nervous system stimulant, is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Scientists have found that use of the drug has been associated with an increased risk of arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythm during the first two months that a child or teenager uses the medication, according to Nature World News.
This drug is sold under the brand names Concerta, Daytrana, and Ritalin. But recently, Australian, Canadian, and South Korean researchers took part in a study of 100,000 kids and young people who suffered from ADHD to measure the safety of methylphenidate.
The research was published in The BMJ (the British Medical Journal). Scientists observed 1,224 patients' records of kids aged 17 and below in the South Korea National Health Insurance Database. The researchers were looking for those who had suffered a "cardiovascular event."
The findings included 864 young people who had arrhythmias, 396 with hypertension, 52 with myocardial infarctions, 67 with strokes, and 44 with heart failure.
The research team discovered that methylphenidate use increased the risk of arrhythmia by 61% in the first two months the patients took the medication compared to periods when the patients did not use the drug. In the first three days of use, the risk was even higher.
Nicole Pratt, the senior author of the study and a senior research fellow at the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Center at the University of South Australia, said that most children who take methylphenidate will not have heart conditions. Kids with pre-existing congenital heart disease were most affected by the medication.
"In the average child, the risk of serious cardiovascular events is extremely small (three per 100,000 per year), and any absolute excess risk associated with methylphenidate is also likely to be small," Pratt said in a report published in WebMD.
But Pratt added that physicians should take these results into account when they prescribe the drug to young people.
The study did not prove that methylphenidate causes irregular heartbeats, writes Dennis Thompson of HealthDay.
"Children on these medicines should have [their] blood pressure and heart rate monitored to help mitigate potential risk," Pratt said.
Dr. Kabir Bhasin, director of clinical education for cardiac electrophysiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, notes that he always tells parents to weigh the pros and cons of using the medication based on how severe their child's ADHD symptoms are. If there seems to be only one choice of treatment, parents have to make the best decision for their children.
Bhasin added that physicians have long known this drug is not as effective as it originally was thought to be. For this reason, Dr. Bhasin tells moms and dads to make using methylphenidate a last choice.
He notes that parents should not take their children off the medication on their own. A physician needs to wean a young person off the drug to avoid severe depression.
Andrew Gregory, writing for the UK's Mirror, says researchers concluded that since medication usage to treat ADHD worldwide continues to increase, the benefits of methylphenidate should be balanced against the potential for cardiovascular risks that could be a result of youngsters' and adolescents' use of the drug.