Atomoxetine (Strattera) for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
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How It Works
Atomoxetine (Strattera) strengthens the chemical signals between brain cells and also increases certain brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, to improve concentration. It is not a stimulant.
Why It Is Used
Atomoxetine is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, teens, and adults.
It is sometimes recommended instead of stimulant medicines, such as amphetamine (examples include Adderall or Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (examples include Concerta, Metadate CD, and Ritalin) for people who have bothersome side effects from those medicines.
For example, about 10 to 35 out of 100 people with ADHD also have tics, such as spasms of the muscles of the face (facial tic), clearing the throat, sniffing, and excessive blinking. Stimulant medicines for ADHD may make tics worse. Research has found atomoxetine does not make tics worse.1
How Well It Works
Atomoxetine has been shown to effectively control the symptoms of ADHD in children and adults.2
Atomoxetine does not start working as quickly as stimulant medicines. Reports suggest that full effects are often not seen until the person has been taking atomoxetine regularly for at least 3 or 4 weeks.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
- Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
- Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
- If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
- Trouble breathing.
- Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
- Thoughts of suicide.
Call your doctor right away if you have:
- Changes in behavior, such as increased irritability or aggression.
Common side effects of this medicine include:
- Decreased appetite.
- Upset stomach.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Most of the medicines used to treat ADHD come with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning about possible heart-related or mental problems. Before starting a medicine for ADHD, tell your doctor if your child or you have any heart problems, heart defects, or mental health problems.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory about atomoxetine and the risks of liver injury, orthostatic hypotension, and syncope. Call your doctor if you have nausea or belly pain. Also, call your doctor if you feel dizzy or lightheaded or if your skin is yellowing.
- The FDA has issued an advisory on atomoxetine. It suggests that parents and other caregivers closely watch for warning signs of suicide in children and teens taking this medicine. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using this medicine.
It is important for parents to be honest with their child about the possible risks and benefits of the medicine. Talk to your child about whether he or she is having any suicidal thoughts. Tell your child to come to you if he or she has suicidal thoughts in the future.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Growth is sometimes slowed in children taking atomoxetine. But it is not known if this delay is permanent.
Atomoxetine may be an alternative for those people who have bothersome side effects from stimulants, such as nervousness, irritability, or tics.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
- Allen AJ, et al. (2005). Atomoxetine treatment in children and adolescents with ADHD and comorbid tic disorders. Neurology, 65(12): 1941–1949.
- Greenhill LL, Hechtman LI (2009). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 3560–3572. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Last Revised: May 14, 2012
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