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What to do when stimulants fail for ADHD



Treating preschoolers

Preschool children are particularly difficult to diagnose given their normal range of temperament and development, Dr. Schonwald said. Their symptoms could be resulting from another diagnosis or from circumstances in the environment.

You should consider potential comorbidities and whether the child’s symptoms are situational or pervasive. About 55% of preschoolers have at least one comorbidity, she said (Infants & Young Children. 2006 Apr-Jun;19[2]:109-122.)

That said, stimulants usually are effective in very young children whose primary concern is ADHD. In a randomized controlled trial of 303 preschoolers, significantly more children experienced reduced ADHD symptoms with methylphenidate than with placebo. The trial’s “data suggest that preschoolers with ADHD need to start with low methylphenidate doses. Treatment may best begin using methylphenidate–immediate release at 2.5 mg twice daily, and then be increased to 7.5 mg three times a day during the course of 1 week. The mean optimal total daily [methylphenidate] dose for preschoolers was 14.2 plus or minus 8.1 mg/day” (J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006 Nov;45[11]:1284-93).

In treating preschoolers, if the patient’s symptoms appear to get worse after starting a stimulant, you can consider a medication change. If symptoms are much worse, consider a lower dose or a different stimulant class, or whether the diagnosis is appropriate.

Five common components of poor behavior in preschoolers with ADHD include agitation, anxiety, explosively, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. If these issues are occurring throughout the day, consider reducing the dose or switching drug classes.

If it’s only occurring in the morning, Dr. Schonwald said, optimize the morning structure and consider giving the medication earlier in the morning or adding a short-acting booster. If it’s occurring in late afternoon, consider a booster and reducing high-demand activities for the child.

If a preschooler experiences some benefit from the stimulant but still has problems, adjunctive atomoxetine or an alpha adrenergic may help. Those medications also are recommended if the child has no benefit with the stimulant or cannot tolerate the lowest therapeutic dose.

Dr. Schonwald said she had no relevant financial disclosures.


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