ADHD

Updated 23 August 2016

Is Ritalin safe?

Is it safe for your child to be taking medication to treat ADHD? We asked the experts.

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Parents need to adopt a healthy scepticism towards the introduction of any treatment for their child. They need to make an informed decision based upon the available evidence regarding the efficacy and side-effect profile of a medication or alternative treatment. They also need to consider the implications of not treating ADHD.

As a registered medication, Ritalin has been subjected to extensive scrutiny for over 40 years. Over a 155 clinical trials involving thousands of children attest to its efficacy and side-effect profile. There are children who experience no problems with the medication, others who have mild and transient effects and those who cannot tolerate the effects at all.

The most common effects are sleeplessness and nervousness, which may be dose-related and do abate in time. A loss of appetite is common but rarely a reason to stop the ADHD treatment as dietary adjustments can be made and long-term studies show no significant effects upon growth. Less frequently, children may complain of headaches, feel dizzy or drowsy, suffer vague abdominal pain, nausea , dry mouth or thirst.

They may feel dysphoric. Mood instability is an unpleasant side-effect and may be indicative of an associated mood disorder. Mild palpitations may be reported but there are no cardiac abnormalities. Caution must be exercised in children with pre-existing seizures, tics, depression, psychosis or hypertension.

Ritalin has a low abuse potential as it does not produce the euphoria characteristic of street drugs. Children with ADHD who go untreated are at a much higher risk of drug abuse than those effectively treated with medication.

If your child has ADHD, see a professional to discuss the diagnosis and treatment implications. Make an informed decision based upon the best available evidence. A comprehensive management plan embraces nutrition, effective parenting, educational strategies and medication, when appropriate.

This article was written Dr Lesley Carew, a child psychiatrist based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Peer reviewed by Dr A van der Walt, MMed (Paed) BSc Hon (Human Genetics), February 2015.

 

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Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr. Shabeer Ahmed Jeeva is a specialist psychiatrist who has been practicing child and adult psychiatry for 30 years. He has vast experience in treating ADHD, and is also an ADHD patient himself. Dr. Jeeva trained and practiced in Canada as a child and adult psychiatrist and had lived there for 25 years. He had attended medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland (1970-1976). His professional experience and accreditation includes: Psychiatric residency at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Child Psychiatry fellowship at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Diploma in Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa (Canada), and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Canada. Visit his website at: www.adhdclinicjeeva.com

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