What Are The Side Effects Of ADHD Medication?

By: Joanna Smykowski

Updated January 31, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Side Effects - What Are They?

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Have you ever been at home, sitting down and watching TV, when all of a sudden, a commercial comes on for a medication? It can be for anything- allergies, contraception, diarrhea, or heartburn. As you sit there and listen to the commercial and images of happy patients float by, it seems to you that this medication likely cures the ailment it is prescribed for. Right before the end of the commercial, though, comes the classic statement, "Side effects may include…" and then the voice rattles of a list, very quickly. Some tiny font may appear on the screen- fine print with a warning. And then the commercial is over.

When you go to the doctor and are prescribed a medication, there is, more often than not, a list of side effects that comes with it.

So, what are side effects?

Side effects are a secondary and usually undesirable or adverse effect that may occur when you are taking a new drug or undergoing medical treatment. According to the FDA, they are "unwanted or unexpected events or a reaction to a drug. Side effects can either be minor, like a runny nose, to critical situations, such as a higher likelihood of a heart attack."[1] The key word here is may, because although medication can have multiple different side effects listed, you as the patient may feel none, one, or multiple of them. "There are some things that can affect who does and does not have a side effect when consuming a drug - age, allergies, gender, vitamins, how the body absorbs the drug, other drugs that you may be taking, and dietary supplements."[2] What you are putting in your body reacts differently with every person, so while you may only experience one side effect and it is only slightly unpleasant but not enough to deter you from treatment, another person may be barred from taking that same medication because it reacts with their body in such a negative way.

Side effects are determined by seeing how the drugs react with humans when they begin taking something new. Once there is a determined side effect, it must be made public as a warning to anyone who may begin taking the drug or medical treatment.

For some medication side effects, the risk of experiencing them can be reduced. When taking a new drug or treatment, it is important to ask your health care professional if there are any steps that can be taken to reduce that risk. For example, if a certain medication causes nausea, you may be able to make sure that by taking it with food, you reduce that risk.

What Kind Of Side Effects Does Medication For ADHD Have?

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As of the writing of this article, there is no known cure for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are only different types of treatment to learn how to manage your symptoms so that they do not negatively affect your life. If you suspect that you or your child may have ADHD, it is important that the first step that you take is to seek the help of mental health professional to diagnose you. If you need help on where to start, feel free to read our "Who can diagnose ADHD?" article, which is filled with helpful tips on where to start and what happens once you are diagnosed. If you do not feel comfortable seeing a health professional in person, sites like BetterHelp.com can match you up with a mental health professional from their network online. The most important thing to remember is to get help if you feel like you need it.

After you have chosen the healthcare provider to go to, the next step is being assessed and diagnosed. If you have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, your doctor may prescribe you medication. There are two types of medication categories for ADHD medication: stimulants and non-stimulants. As we mentioned in our prior article as well, there are also other treatment options for those with ADHD, whether it is a different type of therapy or the utilization of support groups. Before taking that or any medication, ask your doctor, health care professional, or pharmacist about the possible side effects. Remember that the effects of a drug are different on every person and may affect you differently than a friend or family member.

We at BetterHelp have combined a shortlist of some ADHD medications. Many of them can treat any age, whether you are a child, teenager, or adult. While this list is not exhaustive, we have compiled this list of some of the more common ADHD medications and their most common known side effects:

  1. Adderall XR (amphetamine): Loss of appetite, insomnia, abdominal pain, weight loss, emotional lability, vomiting, nervousness, dry mouth, anxiety, agitation, dizziness, diarrhea, asthenia, urinary tract infection. Adderall is by far the most common and well-known medication for ADHD, but that does not mean any alarm should be raised if you are prescribed another.
  2. Concerta (methylphenidate): sleep disruption, dry mouth, decreased appetite, dizziness, increased sweating, headache, stomach ache, nausea, anxiety, irritability, weight loss, slowing of growth in children, seizures, eyesight changes, priapism, blurred vision, and the ability to drive, operate machinery, or perform other potentially dangerous tasks. Can also create new or exacerbate existing mental health issues or behavioral problems, as well as increased risk for heart-related problems, especially if it is already embedded within the patient's medical history. If the patient has circulation problems, it can also cause coolness, pain in your extremities, numbness, sensitivities to temperature, and skin color changes.
  3. Dexedrine (amphetamine): tremors, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, headache, decreased appetite, upset stomach, weight loss, dry mouth, seizures, slowed growth in children, inability to operate machinery, drive, or perform other dangerous tasks. If you are a patient with mental health issues, circulation issues, or cardiac issues, this medication can also create or exacerbate the problem, especially if you have a medical or family history of it.
  4. Evekeo (amphetamine): trouble sleeping, dizziness, headache, nervousness, unpleasant taste, decreased appetite, stomach ache, itching, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, mood swings, constipation, and dry mouth. In addition, there can be seizures, eyesight changes, slowing of growth in children, blurred vision, and the inability to drive, perform potentially dangerous tasks, and operate machinery. Many of these side effects are similar to those from Adderall.

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  1. Focalin XR (methylphenidate): sleep disturbances, stomachache, nausea, dry mouth, anxiety, headache, and dizziness. There are serious side effects related to this drug as well, including seizures, eyesight changes, slowing of growth in children, blurred vision, serious allergic reactions, and priapism. Once again, any history of heart issues, circulate problems, health issues, or blood pressure problems should be reported to your doctor since this medication can exacerbate the situation. In addition, it may impair your ability to drive, perform potentially dangerous tasks, or operate heavy machinery.
  2. Quillivant XR (methylphenidate): as many of the other drugs, if you have.
  3. Ritalin (methylphenidate) heart problems, blood pressure issues, mental health issues, or circulation issues either in your own health of your family's medical history, it is important to notify your doctor, since this drug can exacerbate or create a problem in those realms. Other common side effects include trouble sleeping, weight loss, fever, irritability, dizziness, dry mouth, decreased appetite, restlessness, stomach pain, increased sweating, mood swings, fast heart beat, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, nervousness, agitation, shaking, blurred vision, and increased blood pressure. It can also cause seizures, eyesight changes, or the slowing of growth in children.
  4. Strattera (atomoxetine hydrochloride): vomiting, decreased appetite, severe allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, difficulty urination, and slow growth in children. This drug warns to report any mental health issues that exist within your medical history as well as your families, as well as any existing living problems.
  5. Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate): diarrhea, anxiety, loss of appetite or decreased appetite, dizziness, trouble sleeping, dry mouth, irritability, upper stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, and weight loss. If you have any mental health or circulation issues, it is something that also should be discussed with your doctor beforehand.[3]

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Many of these drugs state that most people do not undergo the severe side effects, but they still must warn you. Doctors may monitor your progress on medication and how it is affecting your health, especially if you are a person who has a history of circulation issues or any of the other specific problems. Each medication all warns of the possibly addictive qualities, which is why it is even more important to check in with your doctor.

Research your medications and continuously tune into your body to see if the medication is or is not working. If you keep an open conversation with your doctor, they will be able to help choose a medication that is the best for you and with the least amount of side effects having any influence over your everyday comfort in your life.

[1] FDA, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-information-consumers/finding-and-learning-about-side-effects-adverse-reactions

[2] FDA, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-information-consumers/finding-and-learning-about-side-effects-adverse-reactions

[3] ADDitude, https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-medication-for-adults-and-children/


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