When to Call a Doctor About Child ADHD

When your child has ADHD, the line between what's normal and when to call a doctor isn't always clear.

Medication meant to relieve symptoms may have side effects at first. Or they might pop up down the road as your child gets older and his body changes.

Unrelated to medication, your child's behavior and moods can shift without warning.

You're not going to have every answer, every time. If something worries you, call the doctor. It's the quickest way to get to a solution.

Medication

Some ADHD medications, like antidepressants, work slower than others. It may take several weeks before you notice any positive changes in your child. Your doctor can give you a timeframe so you know what to expect.

Even if your child has been on the same medication for years with much success, it may stop working. This usually happens when a kid hits a certain stage in his growth, like puberty. Talk to the doctor to see if he needs a different dose or to switch to another drug.

If your child takes an overdose of ADHD medication, accidentally or on purpose, call the doctor right away.

Side Effects

Most ADHD meds will cause a few side effects, but some aren’t normal. How can you tell the difference? Any time your child gets a new prescription, ask your doctor for a list of what’s expected and what you should call her about.

Stimulants are one of the most common medications prescribed to kids with ADHD. While they help with attention problems and hyperactivity, they come with a few common downsides. These include upset stomach, dizziness, dry mouth, and higher blood pressure.

Your doctor should know about anything outside of those issues, including a lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, unusual irritability, or if your child starts to have tics, such as making repetitive sounds or movements. The solution could be as simple as a change in his dose or switching to a different stimulant.

Other issues you should call about include:

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Anxiety and Depression

All children feel afraid or sad sometimes, but for kids with ADHD, those feelings may start to interfere with their life at school, home, and while they play.

If your child starts to have serious fear of being away from family, going to school, or that bad things will happen to him, check in with the doctor to see if he needs help for anxiety.

For kids with ADHD, depression grows out of feelings of frustration about not being like other kids or struggling to control their condition. Your child may already have a hard time focusing on things he doesn't like. Depression causes kids with ADHD to feel hopeless or useless and avoid things they normally find fun. It can change their appetite and sleep habits, too.

In serious cases, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. If that happens to your child, let his doctor know right away.

Behavior Issues

Kids lose their temper. They throw fits and refuse to follow directions. But when their behavior often causes challenges with other children, teachers, parents, and siblings, it may be a behavior problem. One out of every four kids with ADHD has one.

When a child with ADHD has oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), they lose their temper often. They feel angry, won't follow rules, and may want to hurt the people they blame. ODD may also look like your child is annoying others on purpose or gets annoyed easily.

Conduct disorder (CD) includes the same behaviors as ODD, but in more serious ways. Kids with CD are aggressive with others. They break rules, fight and bully others, and may even hurt animals. Lying, stealing, and damaging property can be part of it as well.

If you see the symptoms of ODD or CD in your child, make a doctor’s appointment for an evaluation.

Learning Differences

Along with trouble paying attention in school, many kids with ADHD also have a learning disorder. This looks different than the typical learning challenges you might expect in childhood. It's usually trouble with a specific topic or skill, like reading, math, or writing.

Check in with your doctor for a diagnosis. This information will also help your child's school take the right approach to his needs in the classroom.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 30, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children: Treatment."

The National Resource Center on ADHD (CHADD): "Managing medication."

Cleveland Clinic: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy.”

CDC: “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Other Concerns & Conditions."

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