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What Are the Most Common Stimulant Side Effects?

By Madeleine A.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The most common stimulant side effects include elevated blood pressure, upset stomach, headache, and nervousness. Palpitations, a marked decrease in appetite, insomnia, and weight loss are also common stimulant side effects. Stimulant medication is sometimes used to treat attention deficit disorder, a sleep disorder known as narcolepsy, and depression. These medications are also known to increase energy, alertness, and focus. Stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine enhance effects of certain brain chemicals that increase feelings of well-being.

Other stimulant side effects include blood vessel constriction, increased sweating, and sometimes, the inability to sit still. They may also increase blood glucose levels and may not be recommended for those who have diabetes. Combining stimulants with other medications is not recommended unless the patient is strictly monitored by a health care provider. Doing so can cause serious heart rhythms or cause a dangerous elevation of blood pressure.

Though stimulant side effects can be dangerous, they aren't the only risk factor when taking these drugs. Stimulants can cause dependence and promote paranoia, aggressive behavior, and possible psychosis. Withdrawal symptoms are also possible when stopping stimulants and may include depression, insomnia, and profound fatigue. Furthermore, ingesting large doses of stimulants many contribute to a dangerous elevation in body temperature, cardiac failure, and seizures.

Historically, stimulant medication was commonly used in the treatment of obesity and breathing problems, such as asthma. Since the incidence of stimulant side effects was so high, doctors have more recently reserved their use for only a handful of medical conditions. It might be dangerous to take stimulants in the presence of certain medical conditions. These conditions include glaucoma, anxiety disorders and thyroid conditions. Hyperthyoidism is condition where the thyroid gland produces an excess amount of certain hormones, causing palpitations, feelings of anxiety, and an elevated pulse rate.

Glaucoma is a condition that causes an increase in eye pressure that can contribute to loss of vision. Taking stimulant medication can further increase eye pressure and contribute to visual peripheral, or side vision deficits. Prior to prescribing stimulant medication, the health care provider might recommended a comprehensive physical examination. The examination might include a blood pressure check and tests to determine if the blood vessels and heart are healthy enough to withstand the effects of the stimulant medications.

Those experiencing stimulant side effects should notify their health care providers at the first sign. The health care provider may recommend a lower dosage of the medication or might decide to discontinue the medication altogether. Depending upon the condition, the health care provider may recommended an alternative medication or other appropriate treatment plan.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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