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Stimulant Drugs for ADHD

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Who Should Not Take a Stimulant Drug?

People with any of the following conditions should not take stimulants:

  • Glaucoma (a condition that causes increased pressure in the eyes and can lead to blindness)
  • Severe anxiety, tension, agitation, or nervousness
  • Treatment with a type of medication called monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as Nardil or Parnate, within 14 days of starting stimulant therapy
  • People with motor tics or a personal or family history of Tourette's Syndrome
  • People who are psychotic or have a history of psychosis

What Are the Side Effects of Stimulants?

Common side effects of stimulants include:

These typically resolve after a few weeks of treatment as the body adjusts to the medication.

Other side effects may respond to a dosage adjustment or by changing to another type of stimulant. They include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss (this is an issue that can often be managed by taking the medication after meals or adding protein shakes or high-calorie snacks to the diet.)
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia (sleeplessness)
  • Tics

A slowing of the rate of growth has been observed in some children and adolescents who take stimulants, but it has not been shown to affect final height. Children and adolescents should have their weight and height monitored closely by their physician while taking stimulants.

Allergic reactions, with skin rashes and other, more serious allergic symptoms, can occur with stimulants, so it is best to notify your doctor if any new or unusual symptoms occur.

Tips and Precautions for Stimulant Use

When taking stimulant therapy for ADHD, be sure to tell your health care provider:

The following are useful guidelines to keep in mind when giving your child stimulants for ADHD:

  • Always give the medication exactly as prescribed. If there are any problems or questions, call your doctor.
  • When starting stimulant therapy, do so on a weekend so that you will have an opportunity to see how the child responds.
  • Your doctor will probably want to start the medication out at a low dose and increase gradually until symptoms are controlled.
  • Try to keep to a regular schedule, which may mean that doses will have to be given by teachers, nurses, or other caregivers.
  • Children usually respond better to continuous medication use, but "medication vacations" may be planned for a day or more for children who are doing well when activities permit.

If a dose is missed, go back to the regular prescribed dosage schedule. Don't try to catch up by taking additional doses.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on May 23, 2014
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