In this section
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a developmental problem which
results in poor concentration and control of impulses. It can
affect children's learning and social skills and also family
functioning. Follow the links at the end of this factsheet to find more information about ADHD.
The single most effective
treatment for the symptoms of ADHD is stimulant medication.
Stimulants have been used for more than 50 years, and became
standard treatment for children with ADHD in the 1980s.
Approximately one to two children in every 100 are prescribed stimulant
The stimulants available in
Australia are methylphenidate and dexamphetamine. Both have similar
actions and side effects. Another more recent type of medication
is called atomoxetine (Strattera).
Stimulants act on the parts
of the brain involved in self-control. This helps focus attention,
and may also help filter out unnecessary information. Stimulant
medication is probably the most highly researched of any medication
prescribed for children. They greatly improve concentration,
impulse control and overactivity in about eight children in
every 10 with ADHD.
All the above stimulants
are available in Australia on the government Pharmaceutical
Benefits Scheme (PBS), and the cost is the usual prescription fee
or health care card holder fee.
The short acting forms last three to four hours. Ritalin LA lasts six to eight hours and Concerta 10-12
In Australia, stimulant
medication can only be prescribed by paediatricians, child
psychiatrists or neurologists (and sometimes GPs in certain
situations). These medications are regulated. This means the
prescribing doctor needs to apply for a permit from the state
The main side effects of
Less common side effects include:
If side effects
occur with stimulant medication, they are usually seen soon
after starting and can often be managed by changing the dose or
the time that the medication is given. If more intense side effects
occur, the medication can be stopped immediately without needing to slowly reduce the dose. Many children will have no side effects at all.
The stimulants are not
addictive in the doses used to treat ADHD. Studies have shown that
children with ADHD treated with stimulant medication are less
likely to have problems with drug abuse in their teenage years than
children who are not treated, probably because they are more
settled and less likely to take risks.
It is possible that
stimulants may have a minor effect on some children's growth, so
this needs to be monitored. However, in practice it is rarely a
No other long-term effects
have been identified.
Stimulant medication may
cause a very small increase in both heart rate and blood pressure
in both children and adults. This is extremely unlikely to cause
any problems for children with normal hearts. In certain situations
children may require a heart evaluation before starting stimulant
Children taking stimulant
medication should be monitored by their treating doctor. This
should happen regularly in the early phase of treatment, and at
least every six months while the child is taking stimulants. In particular, height, weight, heart rate and blood pressure should
Medications are only one part of a treatment
package for children with ADHD. Other treatments include
behaviour modification, classroom strategies to improve
concentration and learning, and sometimes individual or family
Developed by the RCH Centre for
Community Child Health and RCH Pharmacy. First published
2006. Updated November 2010.