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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Choosing the Right ADHD Medication for Your Child

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


"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.

"You can expect your child to have side effects," Sogn tells WebMD. "But generally those related to stimulants are easily managed. Most side effects are mild and transient."

Here is information to help you sort through your options.

Stimulant ADHD Medications

Stimulant ADHD medications work by increasing the levels of brain chemicals, like epinephrine and norepinephrine, which help transmit signals between nerves. With these medications, children are better able to focus and ignore distraction, which can help them control their own behavior. In the classroom, they may be less fidgety, less emotional, and better able to concentrate. Their relationships may also improve. They may get along better at school and at home.

There are two classes of stimulants:

  • Methylphenidate-based drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta and Metadate
    Over 200 studies have shown that methylphenidate is effective for the majority of ADHD children.
  • Amphetamine-based drugs such as Adderall and Dexedrine
    These ADHD medications provide an option for kids who don't benefit from methylphenidate, or who are looking for an alternative for other reasons. The trade names include Dexedrine, Adderall, and Adderall XR.

Both types of stimulant drugs work equally well in improving ADHD symptoms, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Individual children, however, may respond to one better than another.

"There's no inherent advantage of one medication over another," says Steven Parker, MD, director of behavioral and developmental pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and senior pediatric consultant for WebMD. "Most doctors start with the drug they are most comfortable with, and if it's ineffective or if there are side effects, then we try a different one." The goal is to find the drug or combination of drugs that works best for each specific child.

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