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Group issues guidelines for monitoring Ritalin in children

CNN's Steve Salvatore reports on the new guidelines
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Reports of sudden death in children and teen-agers treated with psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin have prompted the American Heart Association to issue guidelines for proper drug monitoring.

Drugs like the popular Ritalin and other psychostimulant medications, which are often used to treat children or adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, have been associated with increased cardiovascular risks.

Doctors say while some psychotropic medications may cause sudden death, in general, Ritalin taken alone is very safe.

"There's no clear evidence in the literature that Ritalin is associated with a higher incidence of sudden death in children," said Dr. Michael Artman of New York University Medical Center.

According to guidelines, before a child starts treatment, careful medical and family histories should be obtained to screen for heart palpitations, heart conduction problems or fainting spells. If there are any such concerns, the child should be referred to a cardiologist before starting medication.

Once a patient starts medication, he should discuss any new symptoms that develop with a doctor, and a complete physical examination should be performed with special attention paid to heart rate and blood pressure.

Also, physicians should ask patients if they are taking other medications that might adversely affect the breakdown of Ritalin in the body.

The guidelines were released one week before the National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on diagnosis and treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore contributed to this report.

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