Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a common yet complex mental disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.6 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. As more medications are produced to combat this rather widespread mental disorder, it can be hard to tell which medication is right for you or your child. Here we will give a brief breakdown of ADHD and take a look at two of the more commonly used drugs in the treatment of ADHD symptoms: Concerta and Ritalin.

Though it's exact cause is not known, ADHD is associated with low quantities of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The symptoms of ADHD vary from case to case and can be difficult to recognize. There are three types of ADHD: Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. Inattentive ADHD typically means a person is showing symptoms of inattention and is easily distracted, but isn’t necessarily hyperactive or impulsive. In contrast to this is the Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD, which occurs when a person has symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness but not inattention. A person with Combined ADHD shows symptoms of all three. Medications, with or without the use of behavioral therapy, are the most common treatment for ADHD symptoms.

Both Concerta and Ritlain are central nervous system stimulant drugs. Stimulants have been approved to treat the symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsive behaviors, and inattention. They do so by helping to activate the areas in your brain responsible for paying attention and by circulating certain reward chemicals like dopamine. There have not been many clinical studies comparing Concerta and Ritalin side-by-side. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic , stimulant drugs effectively treat ADHD symptoms in 70-80 percent of children and 70 percent of adults. Most people experience a reducion in symptoms such as inattention, fidgeting, inability to focus, low self esteem, and short attention span.

Concerta as an extended release medication. Often taken once daily in the morning, Concerta slowly increases dopamine levels throughout the day. It can stay active in the body for up to 10-12 hours. The maximum dose of Concerta is 72 milligrams (mg), but most doctors start patients with 18 mg. It’s also available in 27-mg, 36-mg, and 54-mg dosages. By starting off on the lowest available dosage and monitoring you as the dosage is increased, your doctor can ensure you are taking the smallest dosage possible to treat your symptoms.

Ritalin on the other hand is taken in it's active form,which works to immediately increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. It is available in three dosages: short-acting, intermediate-acting, and extended release forms. The short-acting dosage is taken two to three times daily, with period of up to four hours of effectiveness, while the sustained release dosage is taken once per day, and may last up to eight hours. the maximum daily dose is 60mg.

Side Effects
As they are both stimulant medications, Concerta and Ritalin share many of the same side effects. The more mild side effects may go away as your body gets used to the medication. These mild side effects include sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, headache, nausea, irritability and vomiting. Concerta and Ritalin also share many of the same potentially harmful side effects. These include fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain, cold or numb toes or fingers that turn white or blue, increased violence or violent thoughts, and even auditory hallucinations. Tell your doctor right away if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. They may adjust your dosage, switch your medication, or both. Additionally, men and teenage boys who take Concerta or its generic alternative may experience painful erections lasting several hours. Always keep your doctor informed of any side effects you are having, as they may indicate a need to adjust your dosage.

Stimulants such as these are not for everyone, as they can cause adverse health effects. They should be avoided by people with advanced arteriosclerosis,symptomatic cardiovascular disease, and hyperthyroidism. Those who have moderate to severe hypertension may also want to avoid using drugs such as these. Anyone with a history of drug abuse, history of agitated states, or history of sensitivity to stimulants such as these should also avoid them. People who take or have recently taken MAOI inhibitors should also steer clear. Ritalin can worsen the symptoms of people who are affected by motor tics or Tourette's syndrome, glaucoma, or those that have a history of agitation or anxiety. Both medications are considered "pregnancy category C", meaning they are excreted in a mother's milk, suggesting that nursing mothers should not use the drug.

If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, talk to your doctor before using either Concerta or Ritalin. Both have a history of dependence, and this risk may be greater if you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.

Both Concerta and Ritalin are stimulants, and work in much the same way to improve ADHD symptoms in the body. Both are available in extended release forms, and have similar side effects and interactions. The main difference between them is in dosage. Some prefer to take their medication all at once, such as one extended release pill in the morning before school or work. In this case, extended release Concerta may be the best option. Still others like the benefit of taking immediate release drugs, as it may allow them to time their side effects and thus make them more manageable. Immediate release Ritalin would be a viable option here. This varies on a case by case basis due to many factors, including age and how well your body absorbs the medication.

If you are deciding between Concerta and Ritalin, talk with your doctor. Based on your personal health and drug history, they may be able to determine which course of action is better for you.

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Author's Bio: 

Brian Wu graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology and Neurobiology. Currently, he holds a PhD and is an MD candidate (KSOM, USC) in integrative biology and disease. He is also an experienced writer and editor for many prestigious web pages. Brian values the ability of all ages to learn from the power of stories. His mission is to write about health conditions, educational topics and life situations in an entertaining way in order to help children understand their own life conditions and daily circumstances.