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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children: Treatment

Do ADHD medications have side effects?

ADHD drugs sometimes have side effects. But these usually happen when a child first starts treatment. They are usually mild and short-lived.

If your child has side effects with an ADHD medication, call your child’s doctor. Don’t make any changes in the treatment without talking to him first.

The most common side effects of stimulants for ADHD include:

  • Low appetite/weight loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Jitteriness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Stomachaches

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

Antidepressants may cause heart rate problems, heart rhythm problems, dry mouth, headaches, and drowsiness. If your child is prescribed these drugs, he or she needs to be watched more carefully.

In most cases, your doctor can control the side effects of ADHD medications. To do that she may:

  • Change the medication dosage
  • Adjust the timing of medication
  • Use a different medication

Rarely, medications for ADHD cause serious side effects. For instance, some stimulants can cause heart problems and sudden death in children. They may also make certain psychiatric conditions worse, like psychosis, depression, or anxiety. Before your child starts a medication, his doctor should look carefully for potential treatment complications.

The nonstimulant atomoxetine has a black box warning (the FDA’s most serious) for an increased risk of suicidal thinking in teenagers. So make sure you talk to a doctor about all of the potential risks before your child starts using a new medication for ADHD.

How does behavioral treatment work for ADHD?

The type of behavioral therapy that has been successful in children with ADHD is called behavioral management therapy. It can be used with or without medications.

For this type of therapy you’ll want to find a licensed mental health professional -- a psychologist, social worker, or family therapist. They will work with you and your child's teachers to set up a program to improve your child’s behaviors.

The three main elements of behavioral management therapy include:

  • Goal setting. You and the teacher help your child learn to set and accomplish specific goals. Examples of goals include completing a chore, finishing a classroom assignment, playing well with a friend on the playground, or sitting at his desk for an hour or more.
  • Rewards and consequences. Your child receives rewards or consequences for his or her actions. For example, extra computer time can be given for achieving established goals or good behavior. Negative behavior can be met with time out or loss of privileges.
  • Consistent therapy for a long period of time -- It's important to use goal-setting, rewards, and consequences with your child until the child adopts these behavioral changes as his own.

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