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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Medicines for ADHD

Medicine is an important component of treating ADHD. There are many types of medications that can be used to control ADHD symptoms.

These medicines are available in short-acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. It may take some time for a physician to find the best medication, dosage, and schedule for someone with ADHD. 

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Stimulants for ADHD

A class of medicines called psychostimulants or stimulants have been used to effectively treat ADHD for decades. These drugs increase attention by helping users to focus their thoughts and ignore distractions. They may also decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity. Stimulant medications are effective in 70% to 80% of patients.

Some experts consider stimulants the first line of treatment for ADHD in children and adolescents. Some stimulants are approved for use in children over 3 years of age, while others are approved for children over 6 years of age. 

Stimulant medicines approved to treat ADHD include:

Generic versions are also available for some of these medicines. Note that only some of these stimulants -- like Adderall XR, Concerta, Vyvanse, Quillivant XR, and Focalin XR -- are FDA-approved for adults.

Learn more about stimulant therapy.

Nonstimulant Medicines to Treat ADHD

In cases where stimulants don’t work or cause unpleasant side effects, nonstimulants might help. Strattera is used in children, adolescents, and adults. Intuniv is used in children and teens 6 to 17 years old. Both medications improve concentration and impulse control. Catapres or Tenex are also used in people with ADHD. Generic versions are also available for some.

Medical Food to Treat ADHD

Vayarin is a prescription medical food to treat ADHD.  Vayarin contains a variety of fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. An imbalance of fats is thought to be linked to ADHD.

Other Medicines to Treat ADHD

Sometimes stimulants and nonstimulants aren't effective or you may have a tough time taking them due to side effects. If you have another health issue such as anxiety or depression, a different ADHD medicine may also be better. Other options to treat ADHD may include:

  • Pamelor (desimpramine) or other tricyclic antidepressants
  • Wellbutrin
  • Effexor

 

 

 

Side Effects of ADHD Medicine

ADHD drugs sometimes have side effects, but these tend to happen early in treatment and are usually mild and short-lived. The most common side effects of ADHD drugs include:

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

In most cases, side effects can be relieved using one of the following strategies:

  • Decreasing the dose of medicine
  • Adjusting when the medication is taken
  • Changing the medicine

Always consult your health care provider before making any changes in your ADHD treatment regimen.

Rarely, medications for ADHD can cause more serious side effects. For instance, some stimulants are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems and sudden death in certain at-risk people. They may also exacerbate psychiatric conditions like psychosis, depression, or anxiety. So before you or your children start taking any ADHD medication, make sure you talk to a doctor about all of the potential risks. Make sure to include your family's health history as well.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on October 07, 2014

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