Gould said the FDA approached her and her colleagues to try to assess the true prevalence of this problem.
The researchers sifted through mortality data from 1985 through 1996, and found 564 cases of sudden death that occurred in children aged 7 to 19, and they compared them to 564 youths who had been killed as passengers in automobile accidents.
After ruling out factors such as a history of known cardiac problems; known causes of death, such as asthma or an accidental death, and other conditions, such as sickle cell anemia or cerebral palsy, Gould and her colleagues found only 10 sudden, unexplained deaths in children taking stimulant medications.
When they compared those 10 youths to age-matched controls who had died in car crashes, they found that the odds of sudden death were 7.4 times higher for children taking stimulant medications.
"Stimulants do increase blood pressure, and there have been reports of them changing heart rates," noted Gould.
"This report is quite helpful," said one of the authors of the accompanying editorial, Dr. Benedetto Vitiello, a psychiatrist and chief of the child and adolescent treatment intervention branch at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. "It rings a bell for everyone to be more attentive and less cavalier about the use of these drugs."
Many teens and even some adults take them for non-approved uses, such as improving focus and enhancing performance at work or at school.
"We need to keep in mind that even though these drugs are commonly used, they still have the potential for adverse events. We shouldn't approach them lightly," said Vitiello.
Dr. Diego Chaves-Gnecco, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, agreed with Vitiello.
"No medication is free of risk or side effects. Any
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