ADHD treatment options
ADHD cannot be cured, but it can be managed with 4 main approaches, or a combination of treatments:
Each child's symptoms will be different, as will the most appropriate treatments recommended by ADHD specialists. If one medication or approach doesn’t work, a different one may be tried.
Stimulant medication for ADHD.
Stimulant drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications for children with ADHD. They include dexamfetamine, lisdexamfetamine and methylphenidate. These drugs are called psychostimulants or CNS stimulants.
Although methylphenidate can be a successful treatment for ADHD symptoms in children over 6 years old and teenagers, doctors do not fully know how it works. Methylphenidate is also sometimes referred to by the brand name Ritalin.
However, it is thought it helps by stimulating parts of the brain responsible for changing mental and behavioural reactions.
Methylphenidate is given under close supervision from a GP and ADHD specialist. It may be given as several doses a day or by using slow release tablets.
One side effect is loss of appetite with a risk of weight loss. Doctors will monitor a child's weight and growth while taking methylphenidate.
Other side effects include increased blood pressure and heart rate, sleep problems, headaches, tummy aches and mood swings.
Dexamfetamine works in a similar way to methylphenidate, with similar side-effects, and may be recommended for children over 3 years old and teenagers.
Extra caution will be taken if a child with epilepsy is prescribed dexamfetamine.
Possible side effects include dizziness, headaches, and nausea and mood swings.
Lisdexamfetamine works in the same way as dexamfetamine and can be used by children over 6 years old.
It can cause a loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss. Other side effects include drowsiness, aggression, and headaches.
Non-stimulants medication for ADHD
Atomoxetine is a non-stimulant drug for ADHD. This type of medication is called a selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) which helps to improve concentration and manage impulsive behaviour.
It may be recommended for children over 6 years old, teenagers and adults with ADHD.
This drug carries warnings about an increased risk of a child thinking about suicide, so children will need to be monitored for signs of depression or suicidal thoughts.
Atomoxetine is not suitable for anyone with the eye condition glaucoma.
Side effects include a small risk of liver damage, increased blood pressure and heart rate, nausea, waking up early, dizziness, tummy aches and irritability.
Guanfacine works on the brain to help improve attentiveness but this tablet is only recommended for children and teens if other treatments have not been effective.
Side effects may include tiredness, fatigue, headaches, stomach pain or dry mouth.
Psychological therapy for ADHD
Therapy may help children and teenagers with ADHD in combination with medication.
The approach for therapy may involve counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.
Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is called a talking therapy. Getting a child to talk about their ADHD and how it affects them can help them cope with the condition and make more sense of the diagnosis.