Ritalin Side Effects and Warnings
- Brand Names: RITALIN, RITALIN LA, RITALIN SR
- Generic Name: methylphenidate hci (hydrochloride)
- Category: CEREBRAL STIMULANTS
Ritalin (methylphenidate) is an amphetamine-like prescription stimulant commonly used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adults.
Were you fully aware of all the “warnings,” “drug dependency risks,” “precautions,” and “adverse reactions” related to the use of RITALIN?
FDA: “Black Box” Warning
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the following “black box” warning on all methylphenidate drugs, including Ritalin, which means that medical studies indicate Ritalin carries a significant risk of serious, or even life-threatening, adverse effects.
Many think Ritalin (methylphenidate) is safe, or mild, because so many children use it. However, the government classifies the psychoactive drug with cocaine and morphine because it's highly addictive.
- Attention deficit disorder
How Ritalin Works
We don't know exactly why it produces the effects it does. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) was first synthesized in 1944 in an (unsuccessful) attempt to create a stimulant that would not induce addiction or tolerance. Ritalin is very closely related to amphetamine: similar in chemical structure, metabolization and clinical effects. This close connection is the chief reason Ritalin use raises concern among patients and others.
Do Not Use If
You have high blood pressure or any form of heart disease, are very nervous or have severe insomnia, have a history of addiction to drugs or alcohol. Do not combine with monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
Common Side Effects
- Nervousness including agitation, anxiety and irritability
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Decreased appetite
- Stomach ache
- Heart palpitations
Other Serious Side Effects Include
- Slowing of growth (height and weight) in children
- Seizures, mainly in patients with a history of seizures
- Eyesight changes or blurred vision
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Less Common Side Effects
- High blood pressure
- Rapid pulse rate (and other heart problems)
- Tolerance (constant need to raise the dose)
- Feelings of suspicion and paranoia
- Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not there)
- Cocaine craving
- Dermatoses (infected or diseased skin)
- Urinary tract infection
- Infection or viral infection
- Elevated ALT enzyme levels in the blood (signaling liver damage)
What to Do About Side Effects
- The last dose of the drug every day should be taken several hours before bedtime to prevent insomnia.
- Nervousness usually goes away and appetite often returns so that weight loss is rarely dangerous.
- If high blood pressure, rapid pulse, paranoia, or tolerance becomes a problem, the drug is usually stopped.
- Nothing can be done about the addiction except to remember not to stop taking any type of methylphenidate abruptly.
Dependence, Tolerance and Withdrawal
It is possible to build up a tolerance to methylphenidate, which means the person using the drug needs to take larger doses to achieve the same effect. Over time, the body might come to depend on methylphenidate drugs just to function normally. The person craves the drug and their psychological dependence makes them panic if access is denied, even temporarily.
Withdrawal symptoms can include tiredness, panic attacks, crankiness, extreme hunger, depression and nightmares. Some people experience a pattern of “binge crash” characterized by using continuously for several days without sleep, followed by a period of heavy sleeping.
If It Doesn't Work
The drug should be stopped gradually. Withdrawal symptoms are psychological and stopping suddenly can cause extreme fatigue and severe, even suicidal, depression in adult patients.
If It Does Work
“Also, in addition to increasing heart rate and blood pressure, causing insomnia and weight loss, and sometimes causing psychotic symptoms, the stimulant medications used for ADHD (methylphenidate and amphetamines) may cause heart disease if taken for a long time. The latter problem led to a debate within the FDA, well covered by newspapers, about whether to issue a special warning to doctors. In the end, the FDA decided not to do this, but the risk remains,” reports Jack M. Gorman, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and deputy director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Ritalin “is a very powerful drug that undoubtedly works for ADHD, but there are alternatives with less abuse potential that should be tried first.”