Ritalin, also known by the generic name methylphenidate, is a prescription stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) and narcolepsy. According to AboutKidsHealth, Ritalin stimulates the area of the brain responsible for paying attention to certain activities while ignoring others, allowing children with ADHD and ADD to ignore irrelevant stimuli and focus on the task at hand. When used to treat narcolepsy, Ritalin stimulates the brain to increase alertness.
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Children with ADHD and ADD are often prescribed Ritalin as part of a treatment plan including psychological, educational and social therapeutic measures. Positive behavioral changes seen with Ritalin use include improved patience, decreased fidgeting, improved emotional control, improved attention and focus, better social relationships, improved organizational skills and an increase in self-esteem. According to PediatricNeurology.com, stubbornness and aggression may decrease in children taking Ritalin. In addition, an improvement in the completion of schoolwork and homework may also be noted.
Some children taking Ritalin may experience abdominal upset. Side effects may include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss. According to RxList.com, while Ritalin works best when taken 30 to 45 minutes before a meal or as medically directed, children experiencing an upset stomach or loss of appetite may benefit from taking this medication with a snack or after meals. Loss of appetite will typically resolve on its own. Smaller, more frequent meals may also help, as can frequent oral care. Older children experiencing nausea or vomiting may also benefit from sucking on hard, sugar-free candy.
Emotional and Behavioral Side Effects
While typically prescribed to treat hyperactivity and other behavioral issues associated with ADHD and ADD, Ritalin use may cause some patients to experience emotional and behavioral side effects. According to KidsHealth.org, possible side effects can include nervousness, excitability, emotional ups and downs, insomnia and dizziness. Children taking Ritalin should limit caffeine and chocolate intake, as their use with this drug may increase nervousness and shakiness. Headaches, irritability, crankiness, crying, emotional sensitivity, muscle tics or twitches and nervous habits may also occur with Ritalin use. In addition, some children may become more hyperactive and moody as this medication wears off toward the end of the day.