Till date, more than 6 million children in the US have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. On a related note, narcolepsy is known to affect one in every 2000 Americans, accounting for around 200,000 Americans with the condition. Medications used for treating the conditions are stimulants and are the product of long term research, with clear evidence of effectiveness. All medications have side effects, the only difference is the varied tolerance levels – and stimulants are no exception. We will take a good look at the side effects of Ritalin and the best methods of mitigating the same.

Drug overview and side effects of Ritalin

Before we look at the side effects of Ritalin it is time to understand all about the drug. Ritalin belongs to the category of central nervous system stimulants, and is used in combination with various other lines of treatment, including cognitive behavior therapy, and psychological counselling as a holistic treatment regimen. The medication helps to tackle common symptoms associated with the condition – shortened attention spans, impulsive actions/decisions, apart from typical behavior such as hyperactivity and tendency to get easily distracted. The medication joins other psychostimulants, that are considered as long acting in nature for treating the condition as first line medications. Methylphenidate is regarded as a safe stimulant with proven effectiveness as evinced from studies conducted over a long term basis.

Mechanism of action and its impact on the side effects of Ritalin

To get a better understanding of the side effects of Ritalin, it is important to learn all about the mechanism of action of the medication. The stimulant is known to behave like a NDRI (acronym for norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor). By preventing the reuptake, the medication causes an increase in the levels of the neurotransmitters, thereby causing extended action. It is important to note that this is a dose dependent effect, with higher dosages of the medication causing an increase in the levels of the neurotransmitters. Higher levels may have undesirable effects such as an adverse impact on cognition. Lower dosages are known to have better results as by selectively activating the neurotransmitters. This makes it more suitable for managing ADHD, while ensuring that side effects are as minimal as possible.

One of the advantages of the right (read as low) dosages of the medication is the zero impact on movement related impulsive actions. Similarly, the right dosages also help in increasing attention spans, while boosting memory power.

Black box warning on the medication

As we look at the side effects of Ritalin it is time to take note that the medication comes with a black box warning. Effectively, this means that the contents of the medication have the potential to develop dependence and could also be possibly abused. Here it is important to add, that the likelihood of abuse is attributed to higher dosages.

Psychostimulants have addictive properties by virtue of the action in the key brain areas and the increased levels of dopamine. Additionally, the medication is also known to increase the potential for abuse by other substances, by amplifying the potency/effect of those drugs.

Common side effects of Ritalin

The commonly reported side effects of Ritalin include sudden irritability and unexplained mood swings. The individual is likely to exhibit some kind of nervousness, in addition to a racy heartbeat. Patients may experience blurred vision or some impact on normal vision. Headache is a possibility, while individuals are also known to experience difficulty in falling asleep. Some patients may also experience an increase in blood pressure levels when on the medication.

Effect of the medication on kids – When the medication is administered to kids, there is a possibility of it having an impact on the growth of the child. This is a temporary side effect that is typically experienced during the initial stages of administration of the medication. Treating specialists often workaround the problem by suggesting a break from the medication for a short period, especially during summer, to facilitate growth and also to observe the impact of the break from medication.

Why is Ritalin habit forming? – Among the side effects of Ritalin, the habit-forming property is prominent. This is especially true in the cases of individuals taking heavier doses of the medication. When taken in large doses, the medication results in an increase in dopamine levels. Consequently, this results in euphoric feelings, and the individual ends up liking the feeling, which in turn is the reason the habit-forming property of the medication. The medication is also known to cause withdrawal symptoms among individuals who suddenly stop taking the medication after having taken it for a long time. Commonly observed/reported withdrawal symptoms include difficulty in falling asleep, sudden tiredness, and unexplained depression. Specialists advise a gradual reduction in dosage before stopping the medication completely.

Side effects of Ritalin from high dosages

The drug is also known to cause side effects as a result of high dosages. For instance, patients may experience hostility and paranoia due to misuse and/or abuse. Symptoms include sudden shaky feeling, twitching sensations, unexplained changes in mood and behaviour. Individuals are likely to get confused, while others may experience hallucinations. The possibility of having delusions while on the medication is high, and some patients may also experience seizures. It is necessary to seek medical intervention when the above symptoms are observed.

Effects of the medication on the circulatory system

Among the side effects of Ritalin the impact on the circulatory system includes impaired circulation that could result in a slight discoloration of the skin. Patients may experience their toes and fingers turning cold and numb, apart from experiencing pain. The medication is known to cause peripheral vascular disease. Psychostimulants are also known to increase the levels of blood pressure and cause the heart to beat faster. The temperature of the body is also known to increase as a result of the medication, and individuals may exhibit irritability.

Patients on treatment for blood pressure or heart related ailments need to take precautions and consult the treating specialist. Depending on the dosage there is a possibility of the medication exposing the patient to heightened levels of risk of heart attack. Stroke is another possible side effect, while there have been reports of fatalities in a very rare cases of individuals with pre-existing heart problems.

Effects of the medication on the digestive system

Side effects of Ritalin include impact on the digestive system. For instance, individuals may experience reduced appetite, while others may experience feelings of nausea. Patients may experience pain in the stomach as a result of the medication, while abuse of the medication can result in vomiting, and diarrhea. There is a possibility of developing malnutrition as a result of long-term use of the medication. Individuals are likely to end up health problems that are associated to malnutrition, while a sudden loss of weight is also a strong possibility.

Additionally, there are other effects of the medication, such as a change in breathing when the medication is taken for the first time. This effect is moderate in nature and temporary, which will fully change the moment the body adjusted to the medication. Problems that persist require medical attention to prevent the condition from manifesting to more serious health issues.


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