ADHD Medication Side-Effects

ADHD medication side effects generally are mild, predictable, and manageable. These common side effects are not necessarily all seen in every patient. Generally these side effects are tolerated. Adjusting doses can have a lowering effect on side effects. Often persons with ADHD who start a medication will find the severity of their side effects decrease in the first two to three weeks. In some cases nearly completely going away. It is common that for an optimum outcome the person with ADHD must try a different ADHD medication to get away from persistent side effects.

Each ADHD medication will list the most common side effects seen during their clinical trials. Medications within the same class, for example the stimulant class, will often share many of the same side effects. Because each drug has its own unique chemical structure, they can also have some unique side effects that others may not share or at least occur with a different incidence. Because the non stimulant medications used for ADHD are not close in chemical make up, and are not related to the stimulants, they tend to have their own unique side effect profiles. While some people experience a wide range of ADHD medication side effects, others may experience only one or two side effects. Here are some of the more common ADHD medications prescribed by physicians and a brief outline of their potential side effects:

Complete prescribing, side effect, and dosing information for all of the following medications should be obtained from a health care professional. While the following information present a short summary from that information, you should not assume that this is a complete report. This is intended to give you an overview of some of the different classes of medications approved to treat ADHD and perhaps enough to ask smart questions of your doctor.

Ritalin

Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that has been shown to reduce the behavior problems of ADHD such as impulse control and hyperactivity by causing an increase of the neurotransmitters in the brain that control those behaviors. Following is a listing of side effects that are seen the most frequently with this medication:

  • insomnia
  • nervousness
  • dermatitis
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • headache

For many patients side effects caused by Ritalin can be reduced by decreasing dosage. Because Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a short acting stimulant if insomnia is a concern the late afternoon or evening dosage can be skipped which has been shown to help the person sleep better. This must be weighed against whether symptoms of ADHD return and how severe these might become with the absence of Ritalin in the persons body.

Concerta

Concerta and Ritalin contain the same chemical used to treat ADHD--Methylphenidate--but Concerta is formulated as a sustained-release medication. It is hoped that this sustained release formulation will continue to work up to normal bedtime. It is dosed only once a day and comes in 18, 27, 36 and 54 milligram strengths. Some of the most common side effects reported by individuals taking Concerta include:

  • nausea
  • nervousness
  • insomnia
  • lack of appetite
  • elevated blood pressure

Bouts of abnormal thinking patterns or auditory hallucinations have also been reported but these are very rare and occur in less than .05% of people taking Concerta.

Adderall

Adderall is also a stimulant and can be used to treat ADHD and also narcolepsy. Adderall is a mixture of amphetamine salts, and like Ritalin, is also a short acting medication. Also like Ritalin, Adderall acts in the portion of the brain that controls hyperactivity and ADHD signs and symptoms. Some of the most common ADHD medication side effects related to Adderall are:

  • restlessness
  • nervousness
  • insomnia
  • dry mouth
  • intestinal-related problems
  • dizziness

Adderal XR is a more recent addition to the list of ADHD medications and is also an extended release formulation. When taken by mouth, the medicine is released slowly within the body, allowing the user to take it only once daily and hopefully to control their symptoms up to the normal bedtime. While this effect lasts this long for some, in other cases the effects may diminish several hours before bedtime.

Stimulant medications also run a risk of abuse - because of this abuse potential stimulants are heavily regulated and controlled substances. College students reportedly find ways to obtain these medications under the thinking that they can stay awake longer and study for tests. While stimulants may help keep people awake it is questionable whether or not that learning, remembering and actually studying is really enhanced by doing this, and it is certainly not recommended. There are numerous reports of students crashing and falling asleep during tests the next day.

Non-Stimulant Strattera

Strattera is a different from these previously mentioned stimulant drugs approved to treat ADHD. The main chemical in Strattera is atomoxetine, which is called considered to be an SNRI which stands for Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor. The net result is that Strattera works in the portion of the brain that controls the signs and symptoms of ADHD by increasing levels of Norepinephrine levels there. Norepinephrine is believed to be a key neuro-transmitter in the control of these symptoms. Strattera has been shown to improve the symptoms of both hyperactivity / impulsivity and inattention. Some of the most common side effects of Strattera are reported to be:

  • mood swings
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • reduced appetite
  • dry mouth

In rare instances, Strattera has been known to cause hives or swelling in those individuals who experience an allergic reaction to the medication. If this occurs, stop taking the drug and call a physician as soon as possible. This type of allergic reaction can occur with most medications and if this occurs the medication should be stopped.

Minimizing ADHD Medication Side Effects

Certain side effects can be made worse or better by altering timing of dosage or by changing certain dietary behaviors to reduce the severity of side effects. For example:

Insomnia

If you are having trouble falling asleep the first thing you need to do is discuss this with your physician who will likely make recommendations. These may include: make sure you are taking any stimulant medication in the morning. In addition caffeine can compound the issue of insomnia - reduce the amount of coffee, tea or colas consumed during the day to help you sleep better. Finally, try finding some kind of "calming" habits to engage in before retiring which may help you fall asleep. Relaxing in a hot bath, reading a book while drinking warm milk, or using a noise machine may generate a feeling of drowsiness that allows you to drift off to sleep.

Nausea/Vomiting

If nausea and /or vomiting is a concern again discuss this with your health care professional first. They may recommend some of the following: To lessen the uncomfortable sensation of nausea, always eat some food before taking the medication. Usually foods such as a light sandwich or bowl of soup works well for eliminating queasiness and/or vomiting. In addition, sometimes weight loss or loss of appetite can be a side effect. This is more difficult to minimize, generally the amount of loss of weight is less than 10 pounds. This side effect is seen most often with stimulant medications. One option the doctor may discuss with you would be to try one of the non stimulant medications.

ADHD medication side effects are common, but are usually manageable. The important thing to remember is that the potential positive effects of these medications on the symptoms of ADHD usually outweigh the normally temporary issues that arise from the medications side effects profile.


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