ADHD Medication Titration Process: What to Expect

Titration is a big word that means working with your doctor to get your child’s medication just right.

The goal is to find the dose (or amount) of medicine that controls your child's symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with the fewest side effects. Like any medicine, ADHD drugs can have side effects. And they don't work in exactly the same way for every child.

It can take time to find the right balance -- sometimes many weeks. But it is worth it. The doctor will usually tell you to give your child slightly more medicine every 1 to 3 weeks. They will continue this until your child's ADHD symptoms are controlled or they get side effects.

ADHD medication dosages should always be planned just for the needs of your child. There’s no blanket treatment plan that works for everyone with ADHD.

How Titration Works

The doctor will start your child on a low dose of medicine. He will need to be on each medication dose for about a week. That will give you and your doctor a good idea of whether it's working. If your child starts feeling side effects, it can help you figure out how bad they might be.

Some side effects slowly get better over time. So it's important not to make changes too quickly, particularly if the medication works to control his symptoms.

When your child’s doctor makes the titration plan, she should take into account your child's height, weight, and symptoms. She should also ask about your child's daily schedule and your family's needs.

How Will You Know If Treatment Is Working?

Medication is an important part of the overall treatment plan for children with ADHD. Doctors often prescribe stimulant medications or other drugs to control ADHD symptoms like:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility
  • Short attention span

When on a proper dose, you may begin to see some of these get better.

What About Side Effects?

They can depend on the medication your child is prescribed. Stimulant medications are the ones most often prescribed.

Common side effects of these can include:

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Always call your child’s doctor right away if you’re concerned or worried about side effects. One example could be that your child develops tics. These can be small repetitive body motions like blinking or grimacing. Call especially if a side effect is getting worse. Do this instead of trying to take them off a medication yourself. If you stop medications suddenly, it can have dangerous side effects.

Your child’s doctor can usually fix side effects. She can lower the dose, change the times they are taken, or even switch medicines.

What about rare side effects? Heart problems, liver problems, hallucinations (like seeing small bugs, hearing things, becoming suspicious, or having strange feelings on their skin), agitation, and suicidal thoughts can happen, rarely, with some ADHD medications.

If it’s an emergency, call 911. Other than that, contact your child’s doctor immediately. These things happen in less than 1 in 10,000 people, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Titration and Your Role as a Parent

Prescribing ADHD medication isn't an exact science. It can sometimes take weeks or months to arrive at the right dose for your child. But during that time there are things to do.

Ask for information. Make sure that all your questions about the medication and the titration process are answered. And make sure that you fully understand what to expect from the medication before your child begins taking it.

Keep an eye on him. Parents, as well as your child, will need to participate in this process. ADHD medications affect every child differently. That's why it’s important to watch your child for improvements and side effects during titration.

Take notes. After your child has been taking the ADHD medicine for at least 1 week, you and your child's teachers should track ADHD symptoms. Your doctor may even give you special forms, called rating scales, to help with this. You and the teachers should be alert for and report any side effects that happen during treatment.

If there aren’t any problems after a month of treatment, see your child's doctor again. At that time, the doctor can make sure that:

  • The medicine is working.
  • The dosage is correct.
  • The side effects are acceptable to you and your child.

Once the proper dosage is found, experts recommend visiting the doctor regularly -- about every three months. The doctor will check whether your child's medication plan is still right and works.

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Types of Drugs for ADHD

The first drugs doctors commonly used to treat children with ADHD are stimulant medicines such as:

It is thought that these medicines improve ADHD symptoms by making more of the chemical dopamine available to the brain. Dopamine is found in areas of the brain that control mood and attention.

Doctors may also consider prescribing a nonstimulant drug such as atomoxetine (Strattera). It mainly affects a different chemical: norepinephrine. It is also involved in attention, mood, and impulse control.

Other ADHD drugs include:

Each of these drugs can have side effects. Some of these can take up to 6 weeks to start working.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 04, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Mental Health: "What medications are used to treat ADHD?"

Subcommittee on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Steering Committee on Quality Improvement and Management. Pediatrics, Oct. 16, 2011.

Brinkman, W. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, April 2011.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychiatric Association: “ADHD Parents Medication Guide.”

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