The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, and according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Medications for ADHD can help control hyperactive and impulsive behavior and increase attention span.

Prescription Medications

The Food and Drug Administration has directed all manufacturers of ADHD drugs to notify patients about potential cardiovascular and psychiatric side effects. Patients or their parents should read the information before taking the medication and should speak with their doctors about the warnings.

There have been reports of sudden death in patients with underlying serious heart problems and reports of stroke and heart attack in adults with certain risk factors. There is also a slight increased risk (about 1 per 1,000) for psychiatric side effects, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and mania, even in patients without previous psychiatric problems.

The drugs that are the focus of the revised labeling are:

For specific information on each drug go to: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/PostmarketDrugSafetyInformationforPatientsandProviders/ucm107918.htm.

Because of the rare risk of serious heart problems, the American Heart Association suggests that children have an electrocardiogram (ECG) before starting stimulant medication for ADHD.

Stimulants

Common names include:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall)
    • Note: A “black box” warning has been added to Dexedrine, warning that misuse of amphetamines may cause sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse events.
  • Amphetamine (Adderall)
  • Methylphenidate patch (Daytrana Transdermal System)
  • Pemoline (Cylert)
    • Note: Pemoline can cause rare but severe liver problems. Only 15 cases have been reported in the past 23 years, but 12 of these patients died or required liver transplantation. For this reason, pemoline is no longer recommended.
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)—This medication was recently approved to treat adults with ADHD. It can also be used to treat children aged 6-12 years.

Stimulants are the most common treatment for ADHD. These drugs increase activity in parts of the brain that appear to be underactive in children with ADHD. When used properly to treat ADHD, they produce a calming effect that promotes concentration, rather than a stimulating effect. However, they also have the potential to become addictive. Your child’s doctor will prescribe the lowest effective dose, monitor the response closely, and stop treatment occasionally to determine the need for on-going treatment.

Common side effects of stimulants include:

  • Insomnia
  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • Reduced appetite
  • Irritability
  • Rage
  • Confusion
  • Shakiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Possible decrease in growth rate

Antidepressants

There are numerous kinds of antidepressants, and new ones appear frequently. Common names include:

All of these drugs prevent the inactivation of natural chemical stimulants in the body, either norepinephrine (noradrenalin) or serotonin. Most of these drugs act on both chemicals, but some act mainly or exclusively on only one. All are used to treat depression.

Common side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Urine retention
  • Blurred vision
  • Mental changes

Side effects of bupropion include:

  • Weight loss
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia

Atomoxetine (Strattera)

Atomoxetine is not a stimulant but prevents the inactivation of norepinephrine.

Note: There have been a small number of reports of severe liver injury associated with atomoxetine, which reversed after stopping the drug. Atomoxetine should be discontinued in patients who exhibit jaundice or laboratory evidence of liver injury.

Common side effects include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Slowed growth rate
  • Mild increase in blood pressure and heart rate

Modafinil (Provigil)

Modafinil is a drug that is used to promote wakefulness in narcolepsy , a neurological condition. It has also been somewhat effective in patients with ADHD.

Common side effects include:

  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Headache

Clonidine (Catapres)

Clonidine acts in the brain to stimulate certain areas, but not others, in a fashion similar to the stimulants. It is also used to treat Tourette syndrome . Morning dosing increases the sedative effect; bedtime dosing minimizes it. It is also available in a patch that provides a steady dose for a week at a time.

Clonidine is relatively safe except in patients with certain forms of heart and circulatory disease.

Possible side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Stomach upset
  • Mental changes

Special Considerations

Follow these general guidelines when taking medications:

  • Take your medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor.
  • Do not share them.
  • Know what the results and side effects. Report them to your doctor.
  • Some drugs can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one drug. This includes over-the-counter medication and herb or dietary supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your physician or mental healthcare professional if:

  • Expected results of treatment are not happening
  • Unexpected results occur
  • Drug side effects are bothering you
  • You want to change the medication