The frequency and severity of 17 side effects presumably associated with stimulant medication were assessed during a rigorous, triple-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover evaluation of methylphenidate, 0.3 and 0.5 mg/kg twice a day, in 83 children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Side effects were rated by parents and teachers at the end of each weekly drug condition. Three children (3.6%) had side effects that were sufficiently serious to warrant immediate discontinuation of medication. Parent ratings indicated that only the side effects of decreased appetite, insomnia, stomachaches, and headaches increased significantly in frequency and severity during the two active medication doses as compared with the placebo condition. Fewer than half of the children experienced these side effects and among those who did, ratings of mean severity remained in the mild range. Teacher ratings showed little change over drug conditions, except on ratings of staring, sadness, and anxiety, which declined with increasing dose of medication. Surprisingly, a high frequency of these behavior side effects were reported during the placebo condition. Stimulant medication within this therapeutic range, therefore, results in few, generally mild side effects. However, the wide variation in individual responses and the high rate of these behaviors during placebo treatment argue for the systematic monitoring of side effects before and during pediatric trials of stimulant medication.

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