What happens when kids with ADHD take Ritalin and Concerta?

Ritalin and Concerta are two of the most common drugs prescribed for kids who suffer from ADHD. South Africa has been highlighted as one of the countries with the highest prescriptions for these meds.

Psycho-stimulant medications (the category of drugs ADHD medication falls into) can produce a range of side-effects which include headaches, tics, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, insomnia, depression and abdominal pain.

While there are children who experience no problems with the medication at all, enough of them do experience these unpleasant side effects.

We turned to Health24’s Facebook page and asked parents of children with ADHD to tell us how Ritalin or Concerta affected their children’s behaviour.

This is what they said:

Adults using ADHD meds also shared their experience stating that the drugs improved their concentration and behaviour in social settings.

While some adults felt depressed and anxious, quite a few seemed to have had a better experience with the medication.

Health24’s ADHD expert, Delia Strondl says that while it may seem that adults respond to ADHD medication better or with fewer side effects, it is more likely that adults have the ability to rationalise that the changes they are experiencing are as a result of the medication and will likely dissipate with time.

How to handle your child’s symptoms

With regard to the high prescription rate of ADHD medications, Strondl explains that in the past ADHD medications were not prescribed to children below the age of 7 years, but of late doctors seem to be more comfortable prescribing the meds to younger children.

While extreme effects such as stroke (a side effect one parent reported) are not typical for children using the medication, most of the other reported symptoms are to be expected.

It is unfortunate that the side effects take weeks, and in some cases, months, to dissipate but Strondl advises that the long-term result might be more beneficial.

“Although most of these symptoms are to be expected initially, the benefits of the medication should outweigh the negative effects. If this is not the case, there really is no point in continuing with the medication because it’s meant to improve the child’s quality of life,” she says.

Strondl offers the following tips to help parents monitor their child’s disorder:

Be open with your doctor 

Because everyone responds to the medication differently, it is essential to provide your doctor with a detailed family medical history and reactions to medications.

Also, inform the doctor of the type of symptoms your child is experiencing as well as its severity, this will help in assessing whether the medication prescribed is the solution to your child’s problem or not.

Keep a behaviour diary

Keep a diary of your child’s behaviour, noting at least one typical week prior to starting the medication. Continue the diary once the medication has started to get an accurate idea of the changes that take place after your child has started the medication.

With detailed information, your doctor will be in a better position to make for medication dose etc.

Be aware of your child’s diet

Diet plays a large role in managing ADHD. Remember that sugar does not add to hyperactivity as much as the additives and colourants in foods and drinks. This does not mean your child can have hoards of sugar as it would be unhealthy for anyone’s system. While becoming too conscious of food labels, on the other hand, can drive mom’s insane. Simply stick to the general healthy eating habits of having everything in moderation and eat more fresh foods than processed ones.

In addition to diet, make sure that your child manages to fit in some physical activity. Whether he/she is the hyperactive or inattentive type, exercise provides a short term boost in neurotransmitter levels which can aid concentration.

Also be smart about meal times and medication. Doctors will usually recommend (particularly with Ritalin) that children take their medication after having a good breakfast. This actually makes a difference because once the medication wears off, some children become ravenous in the late afternoon so it is important to make sure your child has access to some healthy snacks.

Stick to a routine

All children benefit from knowing the routine and their boundaries, children with ADHD are no exception. Try to stick to the same schedule during the week to make it easier for your child to know what it expected of them.

It might also help to put up a timetable, in words or pictures, to remind them of their tasks and to help reduce the tension experienced in many households because the child “always forgets”.