A team of health experts warned via a new Cochrane Review that physicians should take caution in prescribing the drug methylphenidate, commonly known for its brand name Ritalin, to patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder because despite the drug's health benefits, it may also cause harmful side-effects.

The ADHD drug methylphenidate has been used to treat the disorder since the 1960s. Under the brand name Ritalin, the drug is sold by Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company. The drug is also sold as Concerta, Equasym, and Medikinet.

To find out the harms and benefits of the ADHD drug, the group gathered data from 185 different randomized trials which involved 12,245 participants, comprising of both males and females, who are of ages 3 to 18 years old. These case studies were conducted in Canada, Europe and the United States; wherein each compared the ADHD drug with either a placebo or no intervention.

After assessing the combined data, researchers found that the ADHD drug resulted in modest improvements in symptoms, quality of life and general behavior. They analyzed the adverse effects that the ADHD drug could bring and found that children who took methylphenidate were more likely to experience loss of appetite and sleep problems.

"Our expectations of this treatment are probably greater than they should be," said child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Morris Zwi who worked alongside Clinical Psychologist Professor Ole Jakob Storebø and other experts for the review.

Still, the researchers' confidence in their review was low. They said it was apparent that people involved in the randomized trials would have known which treatment the children were taking. The data in some trials were incomplete, and some trial results showed variation in analyses.

"What we still need are large, well-conducted trials in order to clarify the risks versus the benefits for this widely used treatment," added Zwi.

Meanwhile, the authors of the review suggested that doctors who prescribe Ritalin and other methylphenidate drugs should take into account the poor quality of evidence regarding the drug's efficacy, as well as to monitor the treatment carefully and evaluate the drug's benefits and side-effects.

The team's Cochane Review is to be featured in the British Medical Journal this week.

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