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Ritalin vs Concerta

written by: Veronica Mitchell • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/25/2011

Ritalin and Concerta are two branded formulations containing methylphenidate commonly used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When considering Ritalin vs Concerta, dosing regimes, side effects and individual effectiveness are likely to be considered.

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    Ritalin and Concerta are both psychostimulant drugs commonly used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They contain the same active ingredient: methylphenidate (MPH). There are a number of factors doctors and patients may wish to think about when considering Ritalin vs Concerta.

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    What is Methylphenidate?

    Methylphenidate is an orally administered drug which is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. In the brain, MPH blocks dopamine transporters, leading to an increase in dopamine levels which is believed to amplify the signals of dopamine-mediated nerves.[1] Increased activity in the frontal lobes and striatal structures of the brain causes a noticeable improvement in attention and behavior of ADHD sufferers.[2]

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    What is Ritalin?

    Ritalin® is manufactured by Novartis and contains methylphenidate and a number of inactive ingredients including colorings, lactose, magnesium stearate, polyethylene glycol, starch, sucrose, talc and tragacanth.[3] Two or three doses are typically required per day, as this formulation has a relatively short duration of action.

    Ritalin is also available in a sustained release formulation known as Ritalin-SR. The sustained release tablets are more slowly absorbed from the gut than regular forms of methylphenidate, resulting in a more constant blood concentration of the drug.[4] The duration of effect of Ritalin-SR is approximately 8 hours. Ritalin-SR tablets contain cellulose compounds, cetostearyl alcohol, lactose and magnesium stearate among their inactive ingredients.

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    What is Concerta?

    Concerta® is manufactured by Ortho-McNeill-Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Like Ritalin, the only active ingredient is methylphenidate, but Concerta contains more inactive ingredients including carnauba wax, cellulose acetate, lactose, sodium chloride, stearic acid and synthetic iron oxides.[5] Concerta is a sustained release formulation designed to have a duration of effect of up to 12 hours.[6]

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    Ritalin vs Concerta: Efficacy

    Since Ritalin and Concerta contain the same active ingredient, their efficacy is likely to be similar. Different individuals vary in their sensitivity to dopamine, so the specific dose for each patient needs to be determined by gradually increasing the daily intake of the drug until a beneficial effect is observed.[7] The recommended dosage regimes of each formulation are likely to suit different patients. For example, a patient requiring only a very low dose of methylphenidate may get on better with the short-acting Ritalin formulation, other patients may prefer to take just one dose a day, in which case they may choose Concerta.

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    Ritalin vs Concerta: Side Effects

    Methylphenidate is known to cause a number of adverse side effects in some patients, and these side effects are reported for all formulations of the drug. Common side effects include headache, nervousness and mild cardiovascular symptoms. Patients sensitive to food colorings may wish to avoid the formulations of Ritalin containing colorings. D&C Yellow No. 10 is used for the 5mg and 20mg tablets and FD&C Green No. 3 is used for the 10mg tablets.[8] Sometimes side effects can be alleviated by switching to a different formulation, so once again the choice may well come down to individual preference.

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    [1] ND Volklow, JS Fowler, G Wang “Mechanism of Action of Methylphenidate: Insights from PET Imaging Studies" Journal of Attention Disorders 6:S31-43 (2002)

    [2] CJ Vaidya, G Austin, G Kirkorian “Selective Effects of Methylphenidate in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Study" Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 95:14494-14499 (1998)

    [3][8]Ritalin® Medication Guide

    [4]Ritalin Prescribing Information - Novartis

    [5]Concerta® Medication Guide

    [6] Concerta - RxList Internet Drug Index

    [7]Stimulant ADHD Medications - Methylphenidate and Amphetamines" National Institution on Drug Abuse