Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is among the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorders in the US, affecting approximately 3%-4% of the population. Various medications have been proven to be effective in treating the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity associated with the disorder.
Since ADHD is a developmental disorder, the symptoms usually start in childhood, before age 12. Generally, the symptoms can impair a child’s functioning in school and at home and even interfere with forming and keeping friendships.
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Is Medication Necessary for Treating ADHD?
Experts agree that ADHD medications, such as Evekeo, Vyvanse, and Adderall XR, are essential when symptoms of ADHD interfere with a child’s social, academic, and emotional life. However, medication treatment is often combined with behavioral therapy and other non-drug treatments to help control symptoms of ADHD in children.
Medication is actually the cornerstone of therapy, and it’s appropriate for most kids with diagnosable ADHD. Of course, your child must be accurately diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD-like symptoms can often result from a range of disorders, including mood disorders, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. In some cases, your child’s symptoms can arise from the frustration associated with a learning disorder.
Ensure your doctor uses the diagnostic criteria as spelled out in the most recent edition of the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Additionally, the doctor should get input from the child’s teachers and parents to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Popular ADHD Medications for Children
Methylphenidate is the ADHD medication most commonly prescribed worldwide. It is recognized by different brand names, including Concerta, Ritalin, Metadate, Quillivant, and Daytrana. Although the drug has been used for over five decades to treat ADHD, there have been no comprehensive and systematic reviews of this medication’s benefits and risks. However, recent studies have found that Methylphenidate is effective in decreasing the symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity in kids with ADHD.
Amphetamine is another commonly prescribed medication for treating ADHD. It encompasses drugs such as Adderall, Dexedrine, Adzenys XR, Dynavel XR, etc. If one particular ADHD medication fails to work as expected — or if it requires extremely high doses to work — your doctor may prescribe an alternative drug.
The Treatment Approach
There is no evidence that one particular medication is best for treating ADHD in children. Treatment of ADHD usually begins with an oral stimulant, and your doctor may prescribe either Amphetamine or Methylphenidate-based formulations. Experts suggest that none of these drugs is inherently more effective than the other. The choice of a specific medication should be based on its rapidity of onset, effectiveness in a particular patient, and duration of action.
How Safe Are ADHD Medications for Children?
The stimulants commonly prescribed for ADHD treatment for kids are considered among the safest psychiatric medications. Experts maintain that the risks of using these medications are very low. In fact, the risks associated with not treating ADHD are even higher. They may include academic failure, car accidents, social problems, and drug abuse.
But as with many prescription drugs, stimulants such as Vyvanse, Adderall XR, and Evekeo can interact dangerously with certain prescription medications. Be sure to inform your doctor about any other medications your child is currently taking.
Your child’s doctor should look out for heart palpitations, fainting spells, irregular heartbeat, and a family history of heart disease before prescribing ADHD medication. If any of these factors are present, your child should be evaluated by a trained cardiologist before taking any ADHD medication.
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Side Effects Associated with ADHD Medications
There is some evidence that methylphenidate medication comes with some side effects, including reduced appetite and sleep problems. These side effects are, however, considered “non-serious adverse effects.” If you discover that your child is not eating or sleeping as well as they did before, you can speak with your doctor to see if there is a better alternative.
ADHD medication side effects may also include headaches. Lowering the dosage or opting for an alternative drug may ease these problems. In rare cases, kids taking a stimulant can experience tactile or visual illusions. They may also develop a tic, like blinking uncontrollably. The good news is that ADHD medications don’t exhibit severe side effects that would be life-threatening.
How Long Do ADHD Medications Last?
The short-acting forms of Amphetamine, Methylphenidate and mixed Amphetamine salts typically last about four hours. Each medication also comes in an eight-hour form, with Methylphenidate available in a 12-hour form as well. The recently introduced Methylphenidate skin patch typically works for up to 12 hours.
Whenever hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention threatens to interfere with your child’s important activities, it’s critical to consider ADHD medication. These medications are essential during class time as well as sports and other after-school activities.
Alternative ADHD Medication for Kids Who Have Trouble Swallowing Pills
Other than swallowable pills, Methylphenidate drugs are available in chewable and liquid forms to make it easy for children as young as 4-years or 5-years old. It’s also possible to get certain stimulants in capsules that you can open and sprinkle the content in your child’s food. Another common option is the Methylphenidate skin patch.
Determining the Correct Dosage of ADHD Medicines for Children
Doctors determine the right dosage of a stimulant by considering how efficiently your kid’s body metabolizes the medication, not the child’s weight or age. So, a seven-year-old weighing 50 pounds might need a higher dosage than what works for a 200-pound adult.
Most doctors begin with a very low dosage of a specific stimulant and then increase it every week or two as needed until the benefits level off. When the side effects become an issue, the child’s parents or teachers should give feedback to ensure a corrective measure. If that happens, the previous dosage is deemed to be the correct one for that patient. Sometimes, doctors may alternate Amphetamine and Methylphenidate to see which is preferable for your child.
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The Role of a Parent when Administering ADHD Medication for Kids
As a parent trying to decide whether your child should take ADHD medication or not, you don’t need to worry about the possible side effects of ADHD medication. Generally, ADHD medications such as Methylphenidate won’t likely cause unpleasant side effects. And because a fairly large percentage of children who take Methylphenidate may experience minor and short-lived issues such as difficulty sleeping or loss of appetite, you should be prepared to pick out these effects in your children.
Knowing that such side effects might crop up and that these problems may improve as your child adjusts to the drug can help you anticipate possible solutions. For example, you can consider giving your child a big breakfast before taking the medication. You may also lower the dose if sleeping is an issue. Discuss these issues with your child’s pediatrician to get expert advice on ways to cope with these issues. Fortunately, you will have peace of mind knowing that these medications can ultimately improve your family’s quality of life at home and enhance your kid’s performance and behavior at school.
Looking at the Bigger Picture with ADHD Medication
Interestingly, several studies have shown that between one-third and one-half of kids with significant developmental and psychological issues go untreated. That’s a huge number of kids who need help, either through educational support, Behavioral Therapy, or (for some) medication.
Deciding what ADHD treatment option to consider when you have a child with ADHD is not always easy. Fortunately, medication isn’t the only treatment option for ADHD in kids. Some studies show that certain behavioral treatments can help children with ADHD learn various skills and reduce their symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.
In fact, recent research findings indicate that a combination approach of medication and behavioral therapy might be best. In other words, ADHD medication can help children to get more out of various non-medication treatments such as school support and therapy. When prescribed correctly by an experienced medical doctor who understands and commonly addresses ADHD issues, the downsides of medication with Methylphenidate don’t outweigh the positives of these drugs, in most cases.
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