Kids with heart rhythm problems more likely to have ADHD, anxiety and depression

By Lucy Soto, American Heart Association News

Stanislav Medvedev/EyeEm, Getty Images
(Stanislav Medvedev/EyeEm, Getty Images)

Children and teens with abnormal heart rhythms are more likely to have depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, according to a new study.

The preliminary findings follow previous research suggesting the same higher rates for those conditions in young adults born with structural heart defects.

"This may be the first study of this size looking at children and teenagers with various cardiac arrhythmias (but without structural heart disease) that have been diagnosed with or are taking medication for anxiety and/or depression," the study's lead author, Dr. Keila N. Lopez, said in a news release. The research is being presented Monday at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions conference in Philadelphia.

Kids with arrhythmias were nine times more likely to be diagnosed or treated for anxiety and/or depression and almost five times more likely to be diagnosed or treated for ADHD, compared to kids without any certain chronic diseases.

The researchers analyzed the records of more than 250,000 children admitted to or seen in the emergency room of Texas Children's Hospital between 2011 and 2016. They compared data on more than 7,300 children with abnormal heart rhythms to children with congenital heart disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and children with none of these chronic conditions.

"We chose cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease because they are chronic diseases that are managed with medications and usually involve multiple hospitalizations," said Lopez, medical director of cardiology transition medicine and assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas Children's Hospital-Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The study found kids with arrhythmias were 1 1/2 times as likely to be diagnosed or treated for anxiety and/or depression than those with cystic fibrosis, and more than five times as likely than those with sickle cell disease.

Dr. Bradley S. Marino, of the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, said in a news release that the research suggests "there's an entire population of kids out there with abnormal heart rhythms who don't have congenital heart disease who may be suffering very specifically and significantly from depression and ADHD that we need to potentially identify and treat to improve their quality of life." Marino was not involved in the new study.

Lopez said health care professionals should consider screening children with irregular heartbeats. "It is important to take care of children's arrhythmias as well as their mental health."

Find more news from Scientific Sessions.

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