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Choosing the Right ADHD Medication for Your Child

You have many options in types of medications, doses and treatment strategies.
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WebMD Feature

If your child has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, you may be facing decisions about ADHD medications. Fortunately, you have many options, not only for types of medications, but also for doses and treatment strategies.

First, it's important to know a few things about ADHD treatment in general. In the largest study ever of ADHD treatments, researchers funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found in 1999 that the most effective treatment was a combination of behavioral therapy and ADHD medications. In March 2005, researchers from the University at Buffalo SUNY found that behavioral modification therapy allowed doctors to significantly lower the doses of ADHD medications that children need to take.

So, while ADHD medications can clearly help many children manage symptoms, the drugs may be most effective -- with the fewest side effects -- when used in combination with behavioral therapy.

How do you know which ADHD medication is right for your child? Most experts advise parents to work closely with their child's doctor, and understand that finding the best dose and ADHD medication may be a gradual process.

"Treating ADHD is more an art than a science," says Richard Sogn, MD, a clinical specialist in ADD/ADHD and a discussion board leader at WebMD. After all, every child is unique, and every child's ADHD symptoms are slightly different. Finding the medication that works best -- or the combination of drugs -- is a process.

With all ADHD medications, the goal is to make your child's day go more smoothly, more productively. Until recent years, this was done by giving a child two or three doses of the stimulant Ritalin, which is considered a short-acting medication -- it wears off after three or four hours. Many newer medications are longer-lasting -- meaning they slowly release for up to six, eight, 10, or 12 hours. Yet the short-acting drugs still have their place in managing symptoms.

"While stimulants are still the mainstay of ADHD treatment, in recent years, doctors have found success in trying other drugs as well. In recent years the FDA has approved Strattera, a nonstimulant ADHD medication. In September 2005 the FDA issued a public health advisory about rare reports of suicidal thinking in children and adolescents taking Strattera. The agency asked Strattera's maker - Eli Lilly and Co. - to include a warning on the product's label."

"Some doctors also prescribe antidepressants, although these have not yet been approved by the FDA to treat ADHD. All the drugs are generally considered safe for kids. But all can also cause side effects."

As you try to find the best ADHD medication for your child, it's important to chart any changes you notice, advises Sogn. Look for positive changes -- better focus or calmness -- as well as negative changes that could be side effects, such as lack of appetite or difficulty sleeping.

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