Ritalin For Children: Its Safety, Side Effects & Precautions

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IN THIS ARTICLE

Ritalin for children is a prescription-only drug. It is a brand name for methylphenidate, a central nervous system stimulant. Methylphenidate is available in immediate-release or sustained-release formulations (1).

Ritalin is commonly used for children with ADHD. It helps them control their hyperactive and impulsive behaviors and increases concentration. Read the post to learn about the safety of Ritalin use in children and its side effects and possible risks.

How Does Ritalin Work?

The mode of action of methylphenidate is not fully understood, but it is thought to act on the cortex and the brain stem regions to produce stimulant effects. It may show its action by blocking the reuptake of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, resulting in increased concentration (2). These effects could be desired to mitigate the symptoms of ADHD in children.

Is Ritalin Safe For Children?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of Ritalin for children above six years of age. It should be given to a child only when prescribed by a doctor. Ritalin should not be given to children with the following conditions (3).

  • Anxiety, tension, or agitation
  • Glaucoma (eye disorder)
Do not give Ritalin to children with glaucoma

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  • Tics (repeated movements or sounds that are difficult to control) or Tourette’s syndrome (or family history of it)
  • Children on antidepressant medications of the class called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) within the past 14 days
  • Children with allergies to any component of the Ritalin formulation, including inactive ingredients, such as lactose, magnesium stearate, polyethylene glycol, starch, sucrose, and talc

What Is The Dosage Of Ritalin In Children?

Ritalin is available in the following dosages (4) (5).

  • Immediate-release tablets (5, 10, and 20 mg)
  • Extended-release tablets (Ritalin SR of 20 mg strength) and capsules (Ritalin LA of 10, 20, 30, and 40 mg strength) where SR and LA stand for sustained-release and long-acting, respectively
Ritalin is available in different dosage tablets and capsules

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Methylphenidate is generally used as a part of the total ADHD treatment program, which includes counseling and behavioral therapies. The following points may give you an idea of the dosage regimen of Ritalin.

  • Ritalin should be started at lower doses of 10 mg per day (5 mg twice daily before breakfast and lunch).
  • Your doctor may suggest gradual increments in doses (5 to 10 mg) per week, depending on the improvement in your child.
  • The drug is usually discontinued if there is no improvement after appropriate dose adjustments over one month.
  • Extended-release tablets or capsules are effective for eight hours. These may be used when the eight-hour dosage of the immediate-release tablets adds up to a single Ritalin SR or Ritalin LA formulation.
  • The daily dosage should not exceed 60 mg.

What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Ritalin On Children?

Ritalin affects the brain’s neurotransmitters and could affect other organ systems as well. Common side effects of methylphenidate in children that may be controlled by reducing the dosage include (4) (6):

  • Nervousness
  • Sleep disturbance (insomnia)
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Allergic reactions
  • Nausea
  • Palpitation
  • Decreased appetite
Ritalin for children can cause decreased appetite

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Ritalin may show the following serious side effects in some cases.

  • Slow growth in children (height and weight)
  • Seizures (especially if the child had seizures before)
  • Blurred vision or changes in eyesight
  • Priapism (painful and prolonged penile erection) in adolescent males

Some serious adverse effects that require immediate medical attention may be reported in children with preexisting health conditions.

  • Increased risk of sudden death in children and adolescents with serious heart problems. Stimulant medications should generally be avoided if the child has conditions such as cardiomyopathy and arrhythmia (heart rhythm abnormalities).
  • Risk of a sudden increase in blood pressure in children with preexisting hypertension (high blood pressure). Inform your doctor if your child shows symptoms such as chest pain, fainting, altered heart rate, or shortness of breath.
  • It may worsen the symptoms of other psychiatric problems (mental disorders) such as bipolar illness, mania, and aggressive behavior. New psychotic or manic symptoms such as hallucination (hearing voices or seeing things that are not there) and delusion (believing things that are not true) may occur in some cases.
  • Blood circulation problems in fingers and toes if the child has some disorder related to blood vessels. It may cause numbness, pain, changed skin color, and temperature sensitivity in the fingers and toes.

What Are The Precautions To Take When Using Ritalin For Children?

Certain precautions need to be taken before and after your child has been prescribed Ritalin (3).

  • Inform your physician about any other health condition of your child or whether they are being treated for any other condition.
  • Do not hesitate to tell your child’s psychologist about any family history of mental disorders or suicides, including any history with the child.
  • Inform your doctor about medications, such as antidepressants, cold/allergy medicines, seizure medications, blood thinners, or blood pressure medications (antihypertensives), which your child is currently on or has taken recently. Ritalin could have undesired drug interactions.
  • Make sure to inform your child’s healthcare professional of Ritalin use before starting any over-the-counter (OTC) product, health supplement, or herbal formulations for your child.
  • Keep the medication away from children as it may cause drug dependence and abuse, even in school-aged children. Refrain from sharing or giving away this medication.
  • Seek emergency medical support in case of overdose.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long can a child take Ritalin?

If Ritalin works well for your child, the doctor may advise using it for several months or even years. However, Ritalin is not a life-long medicine; the doctor will monitor the child’s progress every six months, taper the dose, or stop the medicine based on the improvement shown (8).

2. Does Ritalin affect IQ?

No, Ritalin does not impact the child’s IQ. It is often misunderstood to increase IQ because it improves cognitive performance in children with ADHD (9).

Ritalin for children is believed to act on the cortex and brainstem regions. It is known to reduce hyperactivity, severity, and inattention and improve impulse control in children with ADHD (7). The possible side effects such as nervousness and headache may be minimized by using the lowest dose of medication. Talk to your doctor about the suitability of the medication, as it may not be given to those with anxiety or tension. Discuss the right dosage for your child. Inform your healthcare provider if children develop any side effects after taking it, and make sure to follow up regularly.

Key Pointers

  • Ritalin works on neurotransmitters and helps children with ADHD with their characteristic hyperactive and impulsive behavior.
  • Although safe for children above six years, it should not be given to children with underlying conditions.
  • It can induce nausea, headache, nervousness, increased heart rate, and other side effects.
  • To avoid hallucination and other complications, inform the doctor about your child’s complete medical history.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Methylphenidate for children.
    https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/methylphenidate-children/
  2. Corinne Verghese and Sara Abdijadid, Methylphenidate.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482451/
  3. Medication guide Ritalin.
    https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2019/010187s071s082,018029s041s051lbl.pdf
  4. Ritalin and Ritalin SR.
    https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2010/010187s073lbl.pdf
  5. Ritalin LA.
    https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2010/021284s018lbl.pdf
  6. Caroline Bodey, Effectiveness and Tolerability of Methylphenidate in Children and Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.4137/CMT.S6615
  7. Cheuk-Kwan Sun et al.; (2019); Therapeutic effects of methylphenidate for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children with borderline intellectual functioning or intellectual disability: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-52205-6
  8. Methylphenidate for children.
    https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/methylphenidate-children/#:~:text=How%20long%20will%20they%20takechild%20is%20every%206%20months
  9. Lishan Zhang et al.; Effect of methylphenidate on intelligence quotient scores in Chinese children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21192143/#:~:text=Conclusions%3A%20Methylphenidate%20can%20enhance%20cognitiveas%20an%20increase%20in%20intelligence.
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Dr. Joyani Das

Dr. Joyani Das did her post-graduation from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra and PhD in Pharmacology. Previously, she worked as an associate professor, faculty of Pharmacology, for two years. With her research background in preclinical studies and a zeal for scientific writing, she joined MomJunction as a health writer. Her research work was published in international journals and publications, such...
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Dr. Anuradha Bansal

(MD)
Dr. Anuradha Bansal is a pediatrician and neonatologist working as assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics at PIMS Jalandhar. She has done her MBBS and MD Pediatrics at GMCH, Chandigarh. Thereafter, she polished her skills as senior resident at MAMC, Delhi. She has also done IAP Fellowship in Neonatology at GMCH, Chandigarh and obtained the membership of the prestigious...
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