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Ritalin Side Effects

With my lighthearted approach toward Ritalin, I fear I’ve diminished the fact that it is a a real drug with potentially serious side effects. Sorting through information on the medication was surprisingly complicated. On one hand, it seems like a relatively mild, safe medication; on the other, there are dire warnings about its risks. I assume this is because it is often prescribed to children (many believe it and similar medications are overprescribed) and has a potential for abuse.

The most common side effects, compiled from the FDA-approved medication insert (PDF), WebMD, Drugs.com and RxList, are:

  • nervousness
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • headache
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • dry mouth

Serious side effects, according to MedlinePlus (from the National Institutes of Health), are:

  • fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • excessive tiredness
  • slow or difficult speech
  • fainting
  • weakness or numbness of an arm or leg
  • seizures
  • changes in vision or blurred vision
  • agitation
  • believing things that are not true
  • feeling unusually suspicious of others
  • hallucinating (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • motor tics or verbal tics
  • depression
  • abnormally excited mood
  • mood changes
  • fever
  • hives
  • rash
  • blistering or peeling skin
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing

For a complete list of potential side effects and their severity, see this thorough list of side effects of 10 mg of Ritalin from Great Britain’s National Health Service or WebMD’s Ritalin side effects.

Personally, I was a little shaky the first couple days I took it, but less than I would be if I had a cup of coffee. Since then, I’ve been careful to eat 30 minutes after taking it, as the label recommends. My feet also seem excessively sweaty and I’ve lost a couple pounds. Having gained 13 pounds on cyproheptadine, I haven’t minded the weight loss and hope that the weight-related side effects of the two medications ultimately cancel each other out. In case you’re concerned, be assured that my casual approach to the drug is not out of a sense of euphoria, but because I’m so happy to feel like my normal self again. The absence of serious side effects makes this even easier, of course.

The possibility that the drug with disrupt sleep is a big one for migraineurs, many of who already have trouble sleeping. I take it first thing in the morning and haven’t had a problem. Because I don’t use it to manage ADD or ADHD symptoms, I don’t need multiple doses in a day. I’m not sure why, but my energy and mental clarity last all day with only one dose.

Beyond the immediate side effects of the drug, there are concerns of its potential for abuse and the effects of long-term use. You’ll have no trouble finding alarming article on either topic. I’m not worrying about either one right now. By taking only 5 mg a day and using it for a legitimate medical condition, I don’t think I’m at much risk for abuse. If I’m still on it in a year, I’ll look into the long-term effects. For now, I’m just enjoying having the mental wherewithal to write long, research-intensive posts like this one.

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A Morning Person After All? A Return to Normal With Ritalin

When I was teaching public speaking in graduate school, I had a student I called Lawyer Boy who argued about everything. I told the class, which began at 7:40 a.m., that I was not a morning person. He responded, “You’re a morning person, you just don’t want to be.” This was about a year into the migraine attacks disrupting my life significantly (it was actually the last class I was able to teach).

I’ve wondered since if I really am the morning person I remember being as a kid, but the migraine attacks and fatigue were causing me to sleep more than usual. Now, on my seventh day of Ritalin, I have to admit that Lawyer Boy was probably right. I fall asleep at 10:30 or 11 p.m. and wake at 7:40 without an alarm clock. Before Ritalin, I’d sleep until 10:30 a.m. on a good day. On a night I had a migraine (which was most of them), I’d sleep until at least 11, often noon or even 1 p.m. Then I’d lie in bed for an hour or two, mucking about on my phone and gathering the energy to get up.

It doesn’t feel like Ritalin is amping me up, but is restoring my rightful self. This morning, when my head was throbbing at a level 4, I was still up at 7:40. I popped out of bed and started writing immediately. Even better, the head pain decreased to a 3 within 30 minutes. Reduced fatigue, a clear mind, less head pain, minimal side effects*. . . . I hope this lasts.

*For me at least. I’m working on a post about side effects and potential problems of Ritalin.

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Trying Ritalin for Migraine Prevention… and Loving It

Wait-and-see-if-it-goes-away is my method of dealing with house problems. Not because I want to see if a minor issue will develop into a major problem, but calling someone and meeting with a service person is an exhausting proposition when you have a migraine all the time. So yesterday when Hart told me the shower was backing up, he was astonished when I immediately asked if I needed to call a plumber. That’s just not how we do things around here.

Until now. Now my mind is clear(er), I have more energy, and my migraine pain is improving. Today is my fifth day on Ritalin (methylphenidate). My headache specialist suggested it after a number of patients reported a decrease in their headaches and migraine attacks after starting it for ADD or ADHD. Though I’m taking it primarily as a migraine preventive, the fact that it is a stimulant definitely adds to its appeal — the fatigue has been more debilitating than the migraine pain since I started cyproheptadine. The reprieve from my mental fog was entirely unexpected, but so, so welcome. Carrying on an intelligent conversation and following complex tasks without trouble is blissful.

Oddly, the frequency of the migraine attacks is still the same — of the five days I’ve been on Ritalin, I’ve had migraine attacks on four of them, including today. A couple times I wasn’t even sure I had a migraine. The pain was only at a level 3, but I was having trouble staying awake, which indicates a migraine attack for me. I was able to “sleep off” the worst of those attacks with hour-long naps. The overall throbbing pain I’m so accustomed to has diminished, so the pain is mostly localized and stabbing, but mild.

This is a strange and exciting new world and I’m loving it!

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The Trade Off: A Scheduled Migraine Day

I drove more than three hours to my sister’s house yesterday so I could surprise my nephew on his 10th birthday. I had to be home for plumbers this morning, so I could only stay for a few hours. Cramming nearly seven hours of driving, lots of caffeine and bad-for-me food into 13 hours ensured I’d be sick today. I went anyway.

After years of constantly overdoing it and constantly being sick, I learned I become terribly ill when I push myself too much. Now I know to hold back; sometimes I think too well. I’m stuck at home with migraines so often. There’s only so much time I can give up because one might come along.

Last year, a friend taught me that I don’t have to shirk anything that might make me sick — even if it is something that I’m absolutely positive will result in at least a day in bed. She showed me I can choose certain times to push myself without doing it every single day. The trick is knowing one day of indulgence can lead to one (or more) days of feeling awful.

When planning yesterday’s trip, I factored in today as a sick day. Other than letting the plumbers in, I made no appointments or plans. I stocked up on easy food and checked out a good audiobook. By intentionally making a trade off, I feel no guilt.

I know I should never feel guilty for being sick, but I rarely do what I should. Today I can see what a reprieve it is to just let myself be as I need to be.

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I’m Skipping Halloween

I love answering the door for trick or treaters. Tons of kids visit our neighborhood with big smiles and cute costumes. Our porch lights will be off this year. I just know it will be too much for me.

After migraines in the night both Friday and Saturday, the dizziness and pain finally let up Sunday night. My mom came to town Friday, so I was happy to feel OK for at least part of her visit. Yesterday we took the train to Portland for my sister’s birthday dinner.

I got an early train back today so I could prep for our drive to Montana on Friday. We’re visiting dear friends who have two-month-old twin girls. We can’t wait to see the happy parents and hold the darling babies. The last couple weeks have depleted my energy, but I wouldn’t miss this trip for anything.

Perhaps you recognize this topic; I write about it so much it bores me. I simply can’t keep myself from overdoing it. I am improving a bit — I’m only over scheduled for 10 days, not three weeks! I doubt I’ll ever figure out this balance thing, but am glad I’m trying. At least I know that something, even if it is a holiday that only comes around once a year, has to give.