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Pediatr Clin North Am. 1989 Oct;36(5):1183-97.

Stimulant medication therapy in the treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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Department of Pediatrics, Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center and Research Institute, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.


Despite the tremendous research advances that have increased our knowledge regarding the pharmacodynamics, clinical pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, and adverse effects of stimulant medications in the treatment of children with ADHD, our knowledge is yet incomplete. Perhaps the most central unresolved issue concerns our understanding of the pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and diagnosis of ADHD. This review has touched briefly on the controversy and confusion surrounding this issue. Although our understanding of the use of stimulant medications in this disorder is similarly incomplete, a review of the literature does allow certain conclusions to be made that are helpful to the practitioner. 1. Stimulant medications are an effective treatment modality for most children with ADHD. Short-term efficacy is well documented, and long-term outcome may be improved when stimulants are used with other therapeutic strategies. Stimulants in and of themselves are not a panacea. 2. It is impossible to predict which children will have a favorable response to stimulant medications and which children may have a placebo response. The use of individual single-blind medication trials is a practical solution to this problem and should be considered for all children who are candidates for stimulant therapy as a means for preventing overuse or inappropriate use of these medications. 3. The precise mechanism of action of stimulants is not yet completely understood, but stimulants appear to exert their therapeutic effects through their influence on multiple neurotransmitters in the catecholamine, dopamine, norepinephrine axis in the central nervous system. 4. The three major stimulants--methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and pemoline--appear to be equally efficacious, although methylphenidate has emerged as the most commonly used and most studied drug. Because of its potential for causing liver toxicity, pemoline has remained a second-line medication. 5. The three major stimulants appear to have somewhat different mechanisms of action so that failure of a patient to respond to one medication does not mean that he or she will not respond to another. 6. The recommended starting doses for the stimulants are 0.3 mg per kg of methylphenidate, 0.15 mg per kg of dextroamphetamine, and 37.5 mg of pemoline. There is a great deal of individual variability in dose response, so doses must be titrated for optimal effects in each child. Sustained release preparations are much more expensive than regular preparations and may be less effective. 7. There is no evidence that stimulants have any effect on ultimate adult height. 8. Although relatively uncommon, motor tics have been observed in children on stimulants, and all children on stimulants need to be carefully monitored for the development of tics. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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