ADHD Stimulants May Affect Growth, At Least Short-Term

Craig Stoltz Health Guide
  • Since stimulant medications like Ritilin often suppress appetite, it's long been controversial whether taking those drugs can make kids smaller than they'd otherwise be. A new report on ADHD treatments in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests this may be true.

    Bottom line first

    Kids taking Ritilin for three years were found to be shorter and lighter than their peers. The study didn't look at whether those differences were sustained over time.

    This study in 50 words or less

    Researchers are conducting a long-term study of ADHD treatments in about 400 kids (ages 7-9 when the study started). Children taking fast-acting Ritilin three times per day were, after three years, found to be one inch shorter and 4.4 pounds lighter than their unmedicated peers.

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    Useful observations

    Surprisingly, unmedicated kids with ADHD were on average bigger than their peers when the study started, but lost ground over three years.

    The behavioral benefits of the medications--which often include improved concentration, academic performance and relationships-- tended to fade over the three years of treatment. 

    A related study published in the same journal suggest that behavioral therapy and drugs are equally effective after three years

    Yes, but. . .

    This three-year report does not address the question whether kids make up for this lost growth eventually. The study will follow the kids for 10 years, and full results may provide a clearer picture on that.

    Fast-acting Ritilin is no longer standard medication treatment for ADHD. Newer, sustained release drugs are more commonly used now. This study did not test their effects. 

    So what are you going to do about it?

    If you have a child with ADHD who is taking stimulant medication--and if you are concerned the the kid's growth--it may be worth checking in with your prescribing physician or other health professional to discuss the meaning of these findings. 

    Learn more

    Read this excellent run-down of a variety of ADHD medications

    Ask a question of our ADHD medical expert, Dr. Ballas, make a comment to share in our ADHD community, or check out this entry by Eileen Bailey, our patient expert and widely published author who has done some impressive research on ADHD meds

    Eileen also has published an analysis of another recent study, focussing on the effects of stimulant meds on growing brains.


Published On: July 27, 2007