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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Treatment Overview

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:

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.

How does behavioral treatment work for ADHD?

Some forms of behavior therapy have little effectiveness in treating ADHD patients. But one type of behavioral management therapy can be used with success. This approach to ADHD treatment can be used with or without medications.

With behavioral management therapy, a licensed mental-health professional -- psychologist, social worker, or family therapist -- will work with both you and your child's teacher to set up a program to improve behaviors. The therapist will train you in child behavior management.

You and the teacher will be taught to see the child's behavior as a function of ADHD -- rather than as negative behavior. The sessions are meant to teach you to focus on appropriate behavior. At the same time, you learn to ignore minor inappropriate behavior.

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