ADHD

Updated 03 September 2014

ADHD medications won't stunt kids' growth

Research suggests that stimulant drugs used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children won't stunt their growth.

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Stimulant medications – such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta – used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, won't stunt their growth, a new study suggests.

"Stimulant medication did not affect children's final height as adults," said study researcher Dr. Slavica Katusic, an associate professor of paediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Katusic noted that results of earlier studies have been mixed, with some showing these drugs retard growth and others showing they don't. But, most of the previous studies had limitations, such as having too few children or spotty information about adult height, she said.

Read: Asthma drugs may suppress child growth

Katusic said this study is unique because it followed a group of people with ADHD who were taking stimulant medications and compared them with a group with ADHD who were not taking medication and also a group that didn't have ADHD. These individuals were followed from childhood to adulthood, she said.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder 

ADHD is one of the most common disorders of childhood, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Symptoms include difficulty paying attention or staying focused on one task, over-activity and impulsive behaviour, the NIMH explains.

Stimulant medications are a mainstay of ADHD treatment, and while it may seem odd to use stimulant medication on an overactive child, stimulant drugs have a calming, focusing effect on youngsters with ADHD, according to the NIMH. Katusic said these drugs are important for improving school and social functioning.

Read: ADHD in the classroom

Katusic's team studied 340 children with ADHD and 680 without the condition. "We compared the height when they were children and when they were grown up," she said.

The average follow-up time was 26 years for those with ADHD and 23 years for people without ADHD. Approximately 70 percent of those with ADHD who completed the study had taken stimulant medication for more than three months, the researchers noted.

Assessing height after treatment

There was no difference in adult height between those who took ADHD drugs and those who didn't, the investigators found.

"Neither childhood ADHD itself nor stimulant medication was associated with shorter stature as adults," Katusic said.

Boys with ADHD who were treated with stimulants for three or more months had a later growth spurt than boys who didn't take these drugs, but there was no difference in the size of the growth spurt, the researchers noted.

In addition, no connection was seen between the amount of time a child took stimulant drugs and adult height, the study authors found.

Everyone is different

"But despite our findings, doctors should monitor growth when making medication decisions," she said. "Our study says don't worry at all, but human beings are all different and you always have to be careful."

The report was published online in the journal Paediatrics.

Read: Long-term safety of ADHD meds not established

Dr. Marcel Deray, a paediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital, said, "This is good news, because we discuss this issue with parents of kids with ADHD."

Deray hopes the study will be replicated to prove the point that these stimulants don't affect height. "It would good to have a couple of studies showing the same thing," he said.

He also said this finding should be reassuring to parents who may be reluctant to allow their children to use these drugs because of the potential risk of stunting their child's growth.

Read more:

Antidepros during pregnancy raise ADHD risk in kids
Treating ADHD
Memory training helps kids with ADHD

Image: ADHD medication from Shutterstock

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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation (www.gb4adhd.co.za) She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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