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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Treatment Overview

Which medications are used to treat ADHD in children? continued...

Studies have shown there are different types of antidepressant medications that can be useful in treating ADHD. They include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants are helpful in both children and adults with ADHD. These antidepressants are also relatively inexpensive. They can, though, cause some unpleasant side effects, such as dry mouth, constipation, or urinary problems. Examples of tricyclic antidepressants include:
    • Pamelor
    • Aventyl
    • Tofranil
    • Norpramin
    • Pertofrane
  • Wellbutrin is effective in treating ADHD in adults and children. It is generally well-tolerated. It also has some side effects that may be a problem with people who have anxiety, headaches, or seizures.
  • SSRIs are "Prozac type" drugs. Lexapro and Zoloft, for example, are SSRIs that have been tried.
  • Effexor and Effexor XR are newer antidepressants. They increase the levels of norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. The drugs are effective at improving mood and concentration in adults as well as children and teens.
  • MAO inhibitors are a group of antidepressants that can treat ADHD. But they are rarely used because they have significant and sometimes dangerous side effects. They can also interact dangerously with foods and other medications. They may be beneficial for people for whom other medications have failed. Examples include Nardil or Parnate.

Stimulant medications may be combined with an antidepressant medication for some children. The combination seems to work well for the child who has both ADHD and a condition such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or another mood disorder.

Catapres and guanfacine are drugs normally taken to treat high blood pressure. Newer long-acting forms of these medications are now available as Kapvay (clonidine) and Intuniv (guanafacine). These medications also have been shown to be of some benefit for ADHD. Sometimes they're used alone or sometimes in combination with stimulant drugs. The drugs can improve mental functioning as well as behavior in people with ADHD.


Do ADHD medications have side effects?

ADHD drugs sometimes have side effects. But these usually occur when treatment is started and are usually mild and short-lived. The most common side effects of stimulants for ADHD include:

  • decreased appetite/weight loss
  • sleep problems
  • headaches
  • jitteriness
  • social withdrawal
  • stomachaches

Nonstimulant drugs may cause upset stomach, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue, sleepiness, and other symptoms.

Antidepressants have a potential for side effects such as heart-rate and rhythm changes, dry mouth, headaches, and drowsiness. Use of these drugs requires more careful monitoring.

In most cases, your doctor can control the side effects of ADHD medications with one of the following strategies:

  • changing the medication dosage
  • adjusting the schedule of medication
  • using a different medication

If your child has side effects with an ADHD medication, call your doctor. Do not make any changes in the prescribed treatment without talking to the doctor first.

Rarely, medications for ADHD cause serious side effects. For instance, some stimulants are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems and sudden death in children. They may also exacerbate psychiatric conditions, like psychosis, depression, or anxiety. The nonstimulant Strattera has been associated with an increased risk of suicidal thinking in teenagers. So make sure you talk to a doctor about all of the potential risks before you -- or your child -- start using a new medication for ADHD.

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