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ADHD Medicines

What are ADHD medicines used for?

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have problems paying attention (inattentive), being unable to sit still (hyperactive), and doing things without thinking first (impulsive). There are medicines that help treat the symptoms of ADHD.

Most ADHD medicines work quickly, so you'll usually know within a few days if it will help your child. The dosage may need to be adjusted by your child’s healthcare provider. Benefits of this medicine often include:

  • Less trouble finishing classwork and homework
  • Less fidgeting or squirming
  • Better control of emotions
  • Less impatience and impulsiveness
  • Better relationship with teachers, family, and friends
  • Increased self-esteem

Some children may become more active in the evening after the medicine has worn off. Some children with ADHD do well using behavior training methods, and may not need a medicine. There is no cure for ADHD, though medicine can help manage some of the symptoms.

How does it work?

The most commonly used medicines for ADHD are stimulants. Several non-stimulant medicines have also been approved to treat ADHD. Most ADHD medicines work by helping nerve cells in the brain to communicate more effectively with each other. This helps your child focus, pay attention, and control impulses better.

What else do I need to know about this medicine?

  • Some ADHD medicines have been linked to sudden death in children and teens with heart defects or other heart problems. Your provider may test your child for heart disease before your child takes these medicines. Talk with your provider about the risks and benefits.
  • Follow the directions that come with your child’s medicine, including information about food or alcohol. Make sure you know how and when your child needs to take the medicine. Your child should not take more or less than he or she is supposed to take.
  • Try to get all of your child’s prescriptions filled at the same place. Your pharmacist can help make sure that all of your child’s medicines are safe to take together.
  • Keep a list of your child’s medicines with you. List all of the prescription medicines, nonprescription medicines, supplements, natural remedies, and vitamins that your child takes. Tell all healthcare providers who treat your child about all of the products your child takes.
  • Many medicines have side effects. A side effect is a symptom or problem that is caused by the medicine. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist what side effects the medicine may cause and what you should do if your child has side effects.

If you have any questions, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for more information. Be sure to keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Written by Robert M. Brayden, MD, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2018-05-23
Last reviewed: 2018-05-09
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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