Can ADHD Medication Cause Liver Problems?

Reviewed on 9/9/2022
A bottle of blue ADHD pills
One medication used to treat ADHD, atomoxetine (Strattera), may potentially cause liver problems.

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, previously called attention deficit disorder, or ADD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. 

ADHD is treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication. Medications are not a cure for ADHD, and behavioral treatments are often needed so a child can learn to follow rules, work well with others, and stay motivated.

One of the medications used to treat ADHD, atomoxetine (Strattera), a nonstimulant medication, may cause liver problems. 

Tell your doctor right away if you or your child are taking atomoxetine (Strattera) and signs and symptoms of liver effects develop, such as: 

  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • Upper right-sided abdominal tenderness
  • Unexplained “flu-like” symptoms

In addition to the nonstimulant medicine atomoxetine (Strattera), stimulant medications are frequently used to treat ADHD. They have a paradoxical effect in children with ADHD, in that they do not cause children to become more stimulated, but rather, they work to improve attention, concentration, and self-control. Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD include: 

Behavioral treatments are usually recommended for preschool-aged children before trying medications. School-aged children with ADHD often respond well to a stimulant medication plus behavioral treatments and counseling. 

What Are Symptoms of ADHD?

Symptoms of ADHD tend to start in childhood and continue into adulthood for some people. Usually, adults who have ADHD were diagnosed as children, and the symptoms persisted into adulthood. 

Children with ADHD have a challenging time keeping focused, staying still, and controlling their behavior, which can cause problems at school, at home, and with friends. Symptoms of ADHD include: 

  • Hyperactivity
    • Difficulty staying seated 
    • Excessive fidgeting and squirming 
    • Restlessness 
    • Problems playing quietly
    • Talking excessively 
  • Impulsivity
    • Blurting out answers too quickly
    • Problems getting along with others 
    • Difficulty resisting temptation
    • Disruptive classroom behavior
    • Interrupting others' activities
    • Difficulty taking turns
    • Unintentional injury
    • Unnecessary risk taking
  • Inattention
    • Being easily distracted
    • Daydreaming frequently
    • Disorganization
    • Forgetfulness
    • Lack of attention to detail
    • Losing or misplacing things
    • Making careless mistakes
    • Poor follow-through with assignments or tasks
    • Problems concentrating
    • Underachieving in school

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is diagnosed only after other conditions that can have similar symptoms are ruled out. Tests may include a medical exam and hearing and vision tests.

The American Psychiatric Association outlines the diagnostic criteria for ADHD as:

  • Symptoms must be present in more than one setting (e.g., school and home)
  • Symptoms must persist for at least six months
  • Symptoms must be present before the age of 12 years
  • Symptoms must impair function in academic, social, or occupational activities
  • Symptoms must be excessive for the age of the child
  • Other mental disorders that could account for the symptoms must be excluded

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Reviewed on 9/9/2022

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