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Tips to Reduce ADHD Medication Side Effects in Adults

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Adult ADHD Medication Side Effects continued...

Since most side effects are minor, many people feel that the benefits of their ADHD medications outweigh the negatives. But when side effects are a problem, your doctor can help.

First, your doctor might try to adjust the time you take the medicine or the dose. If that doesn’t work, he or she might try you on a different type of ADHD medication that has been approved for adults. For instance, if you’re using an amphetamine stimulant (like Adderall XR or Vyvanse), he or she might want you try a methylphenidate stimulant (like Focalin [dexmethylphenidate] or Concerta.) Doctors can’t predict how well a specific medicine will work in any given person. Some people just do better on one drug than another, and it can take a few tries to find the right one.

Doctors occasionally treat adult ADHD with drugs that are not FDA-approved for the condition. This is called “off label” use. Some of the drugs they might use include stimulants approved for children with ADHD, such as Ritalin, as well as a number of antidepressants and blood pressure medicines. Because these drugs have different side effects – and benefits and risks – you should go over the specifics with your doctor.

ADHD Medications: Other Risks

While not typical side effects, some more serious risks associated with ADHD medications have grabbed headlines in recent years. These include:

  • Cardiovascular risks.  ADHD medications can slightly raise blood pressure and heart rate. It’s not a serious concern for most people. But those with borderline hypertension sometimes find that the medicine bumps them into full-fledged high blood pressure. There’s also some controversial evidence that ADHD medications may slightly increase life-threatening risks to people with underlying heart problems or cardiac other risk factors.
  • Psychiatric problems. ADHD medications may be associated with psychiatric problems.An FDA review of ADHD medications found they may pose a small increased risk of psychosis – for about 1 in 1,000 people. In these cases, the person may experience symptoms such as auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and mania.  The nonstimulant Strattera carries an FDA warning – like all antidepressant medications -- about potentially causing a slight increased risk of suicide in children or adolescents.
  • Drug Abuse. As with many drugs, short-acting stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) have the potential for abuse. However, experts believe the risk of abusing longer-acting stimulants like Concerta, Adderall XR, and Vyvanse  is lower. Also, don’t forget that untreated ADHD poses an increased risk of substance abuse. In fact, some studies of adult ADHD have found that taking ADHD medication actually lowers the risk of substance abuse because the condition is better controlled.

So what should you do to lessen the risk of having side effects with ADHD medications? Talk to your doctor. Go over your concerns, and have your doctor review your medical history. Be sure to mention if you have high blood pressure, heart problems, or a history of mental health problems or addiction. Your doctor  may want to run some tests to make sure that ADHD medications will be safe for you. For instance, you might need an EKG to monitor heart rhythm and rule out problems. After you start treatment, your doctor will probably want you to come in for regular checkups to see how you’re doing and to monitor your weight, blood pressure, and pulse.  

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