Ritalin, the most popular formulation of the stimulant medication methylphenidate, is prescribed to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, obesity and lethargy or fatigue. Methylphenidate is thought to exert its therapeutic action by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, thereby ameliorating a variety of disorders in neurological function and providing beneficial effects for some cardiovascular and metabolic conditions.
Improved Cognitive Function
Ritalin acts as a central nervous system stimulant, primarily through its action on the neurotransmitter dopamine and to a lesser extent the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Increasing the levels of dopamine neurotransmission in the brain can increase the capacity to maintain attention and focus, the ability to organize different components of a task and motivated, goal-directed behavior. These benefits are especially pronounced in those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is partly characterized by impulsivity, an inability to concentrate and a lack or paucity of motivation to complete necessary tasks. In ADHD patients, Ritalin effectively reduces symptoms and allows for normal cognitive functioning.
Decreased Narcolepsy and Fatigue
By increasing the levels of dopamine, and to a lesser extent norepinephrine, in the brain Ritalin and other stimulants produce an effect analogous to that produced by exciting or rewarding stimuli, and as a result decrease subjective levels of fatigue and sleepiness. Narcolepsy is a disorder characterized by an inability to stay awake in situations where sleeping is inappropriate or dangerous, such as during school, work or while driving. Through its stimulating action, Ritalin can improve the symptoms of narcolepsy and can reduce lethargy and fatigue in patients where some disease or condition debilitating normal function is present.
Besides ADHD and narcolepsy, Ritalin has also been used to treat obesity in dangerously overweight patients. An adjunct of its stimulating action in the central nervous system is an increase in heart rate, metabolic rate and a suppression of appetite. Though its therapeutic action is primarily mediated through dopamine in neurological conditions, its physical effects are produced by an increase in the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, a close relative of adrenaline. When used in conjunction with a comprehensive diet and exercise plan developed with a doctor, Ritalin can help a dangerously overweight patient lose fat and improve his health. However, because of its stimulating effect on the heart, Ritalin may pose some danger to those with heart conditions. It is therefore vital that any patient evaluate the risks and benefits of Ritalin treatment with a physician.