Drug therapy is an important component of treating ADHD. There are many types of medications that can be used to control ADHD symptoms.
These drugs are available in short-acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. It may take some time for a physician to find the best medication, dosage, and schedule for someone with ADHD.
The exact causes of ADHD are not known with certainty.
Experts do know that ADHD has a strong genetic component. In addition, they think that genes that control the levels of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters seem to be different in those with ADHD.
In some cases, though, there is no genetic link to ADHD, but other common behaviors, such as smoking or drinking during pregnancy, as well as other obstetrical complications have been linked to ADHD in children.
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A class of drugs called psychostimulants or stimulants have been used to effectively treat ADHD for decades. These drugs increase attention and by helping users to focus their thoughts and ignore distractions. They may also decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity. Stimulant medications are effective in 70% to 80% of patients.
Some experts consider stimulants the first line of treatment for ADHD in children and adolescents. Some stimulants are approved for use in children over 3, while others are approved for children over 6 years of age.
In cases where stimulants don’t work or cause unpleasant side effects, nonstimulants might help. The first nonstimulant medication approved by the FDA was Strattera. It's now used in children, adolescents, and adults. The FDA approved a second nonstimulant drug, Intuniv, for children and teens between ages 6 and 17. Both medications improve concentration and impulse control. Catapres or Tenex are also used in people with ADHD.
Other Drugs to Treat ADHD
When stimulants and nonstimulants aren't effective or well-tolerated, several other drugs are available to treat ADHD. These medications include:
Pamelor (desimpramine) or other tricyclic antidepressants
Side Effects of ADHD Drugs
ADHD drugs sometimes have side effects, but these tend to happen early in treatment and are usually mild and short-lived. The most common side effects of ADHD drugs include:
In most cases, side effects can be relieved using one of the following strategies:
Changing the drug dosage
Adjusting the schedule of medication
Using a different drug
Always consult your health care provider before making any changes in your ADHD treatment regimen.
Rarely, medications for ADHD can cause more serious side effects. For instance, some stimulants are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems and sudden death in certain at-risk people. They may also exacerbate psychiatric conditions like psychosis, depression, or anxiety. So before you or your children start taking any ADHD medication, make sure you talk to a doctor about all of the potential risks.