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Methylphenidate: what it is, what it is for and side effects

Methylphenidate: what it is, what it is for and side effects

January 24, 2023

In recent decades, the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is related to deficits in executive functions, has become widely popular. The drug of first choice to treat the ADHD is methylphenidate .

In this article we will describe what methylphenidate is, what its applications are in ADHD and narcolepsy, what side effects it causes more commonly and in which cases this medication is contraindicated.

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What is methylphenidate?

Methylphenidate is a stimulant drug It has effects similar to those of amphetamines and is mainly used to treat the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as those of narcolepsy.


On the other hand, methylphenidate is marketed under several names; Some of the best known are Ritalin, Concerta, Aradix and Rubifen .

Although it began to be used in the 1960s, its use became popular in the 90s as a result of the increase in the number of diagnoses of ADHD. At present, its use for the treatment of this disorder is widespread.

The mechanism of action of methylphenidate consists in the inhibition of dopamine and noradrenaline reuptake : it blocks the transporters of these catecholamines, increasing their concentration in the synaptic space and therefore their neurotransmission effects. It also slightly potentiates the function of serotonin.


The effects of methylphenidate are especially intense in the prefrontal cortex. The increase in activity of this brain region favors executive functions as reasoning, planning and behavioral inhibition . This stimulation of the central nervous system also manifests itself in an improvement in alertness and attention.

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Methylphenidate and treatment of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurological disorder of infant onset that is related to problems in executive functions. Although there is controversy about the existence of this alteration, most clinicians believe that it has a clear biological basis, although there is a tendency to overdiagnosis.


ADHD has been associated with dysfunctions in the transmission of dopamine and noradrenaline in the central nervous system; the agonist effects of methylphenidate make it possible to compensate for these deficits functional Treatment with methylphenidate is successful in approximately 70% of cases, but can lead to significant side effects.

The recommended treatment for ADHD is a combination of methylphenidate and cognitive-behavioral therapy focused on the training of strategies to cope with the symptoms, both for the child and for their caregivers.

Use in cases of narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes alterations in sleep-wake cycles . Among the most prominent symptoms of narcolepsy are diurnal hypersomnolence, episodes of cataplexy and REM sleep intrusions during wakefulness, especially hypnagogic hallucinations.

In the case of this disorder, methylphenidate and other psychostimulants, such as modafinil and some antidepressants, are used to increase the level of alertness; These drugs reduce drowsiness and improve performance.

  • Related article: "Narcolepsy: types, causes, symptoms and treatment"

Side effects and adverse

The most common side effects of methylphenidate are anxiety and a feeling of nervousness, nausea, dry mouth and loss of appetite, which in turn leads to a reduction in weight ; in the long term these effects sometimes cause a slightly lower physical development, which is maintained while the drug is consumed.

Among the gastrointestinal symptoms that methylphenidate can produce are abdominal pain, heartburn and vomiting. Occasionally, cardiovascular symptoms are also present, particularly mild tachycardia and palpitations, alterations in blood pressure and Raynaud's phenomenon.

Other common side effects they are emotional instability, irritability, hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating, dry eyes, blurred vision and bruxism, which consists of the continuous tightening of the jaws or teeth.

Adverse reactions to methylphenidate They include symptoms such as akathisia (intense agitation and discomfort), dyskinesia (involuntary movements of the muscles), seizures, chest pain, or difficulty breathing.The appearance of these and other serious symptoms should be understood as a sign that the medication should be reviewed.

Warnings and contraindications

People with cardiovascular disorders, such as hypertension or structural cardiac abnormalities , you must take special precaution when taking methylphenidate. It is also contraindicated if certain psychological disorders occur, such as psychosis, mood disorders, anxiety problems, anorexia nervosa and substance addictions.

Drinking alcohol increases the likelihood that the side effects we have described will appear and aggravates them when they are already present. Methylphenidate is also contraindicated in people with glaucoma, pheochromocytoma, hyperthyroidism or a history of depression.

It is not recommended to consume methylphenidate during pregnancy because the possible consequences have not been sufficiently studied; some preliminary investigations suggest that can induce respiratory and circulatory problems in the fetus .


Drugs & Addiction : Side Effects of the Drug Ritalin (January 2023).


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