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Ritalin

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Updated March 15, 2008

Ritalin Basics:

When parents think about treating ADHD, they usually think about Ritalin, as it was one of the first medications introduced (amphetamines were first) to treat children with ADHD and it has been around for just about 50 years.

What Is Ritalin Used For:

Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that is used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. It is also used to treat patients with narcolepsy.

Ritalin Facts:

Since Ritalin is often used as a generic term for ADHD drug treatments, many parents lump in every negative thing they have ever heard about ADHD treatments onto Ritalin. This is unfortunate, because Ritalin has been around for a very long time and has a good track record of helping a lot of children with ADHD.

Other facts about Ritalin:
  • Ritalin was first introduced in 1956

  • the generic name for Ritalin is methylphenidate

  • short acting Ritalin is available in 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg tablets that are usually taken two or three times a day

  • if you miss a dose of your child's Ritalin, you should usually skip it and not take it too late in the day

  • a Ritalin patch (Daytranna) should be available soon

Forms Of Ritalin:

Ritalin is available in a variety of short, intermediate, and long acting forms, including:

  • Short Acting (lasts 3-5 hours)
    • Ritalin
    • Methylin (chewable and liquid)
  • Intermediate Acting (lasts 3-8 hours)
    • Ritalin SR
    • Metadate ER
    • Methylin ER
  • Long Acting (lasts 8-12 hours)
    • Metadate CD
    • Ritalin LA
    • Concerta

Ritalin Side Effects:

The most common side effects of Ritalin are nervousness and insomnia (trouble sleeping). Other side effects include hypersensitivity, anorexia, nausea, dizziness, palpitations, headache, dyskinesia, drowsiness, blood pressure and pulse changes, tachycardia, angina, cardiac arrhythmia, abdominal pain, and weight loss when you take it for prolonged periods of time. Although many side effects can be managed by lowering the dose, if they continue, ask about a switch to another medicine.

Who Should Not Take Ritalin:

Although Ritalin is well tolerated by most children, there are some children who should not take Ritalin, including children:

  • under 6 years old
  • with marked anxiety, tension, and agitation
  • who are known to be hypersensitive to Ritalin
  • who have glaucoma
  • with motor tics, Tourette's syndrome, or a family history of Tourtette's syndrome
  • taking MAO inhibitors

What You Need To Know:

Although most forms of Ritalin must be swallowed whole, including Concerta, it is possible to open the Ritalin LA and Metadate CD capsules and sprinkle the contents on some applesauce, etc. And of course, the liquid and chewable forms of Methylin are nice alternatives for younger children who can't swallow pills.

Other important information:

  • doses of stimulants don't usually depend on a child's weight, so your Pediatrician will usually start with a low dose and then work upwards until it usually works or is causing side effects
  • although convenient, once-a-day forms of Ritalin are typically much more expensive than generic methylphenidate
  • short acting Ritalin is sometimes abused by teens who crush and snort it or simply take Ritalin that they haven't been prescribed

Sources:

  • Ritalin Patient Information sheet
  • AAP Clinical Practice Guideline: Treatment of the School-Aged Child With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. AAP Policy 2001 108: 1033-1044.

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