ADHD

Updated 19 July 2017

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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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation (www.gb4adhd.co.za) She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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