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Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are medicines that speed up physical and mental processes.Central nervous system stimulants, such as amphetamines and methylphenidate (Ritalin), are used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition in which people have unusually high activity levels and short attention spans. People with this condition are easily distracted and may have trouble sitting still, planning ahead, or finishing what they start. They may also act recklessly and impulsively, and have behavioral and emotional problems. Central nervous system stimulants increase attention, decrease restlessness, and improve physical coordination in people who have ADHD. The drugs may also curb impulsive behavior. When used to treat ADHD, central nervous system stimulants are just one part of the total treatment program, which also includes social, educational, and psychological help.
Although central nervous system stimulants are effective in treating ADHD, their use is controversial, especially in children. Because they may cause unwanted side effects, parents and doctors of children who need the drugs must carefully weigh the risks and benefits. There is also concern that these drugs are being prescribed for some children who do not need them. Other physical and mental conditions can have some of the same symptoms as ADHD, so it is important to rule out other causes before starting treatment with central nervous system stimulants.
This type of medicine is also used to treat narcolepsy, in which people have an uncontrollable desire to sleep or may suddenly fall into a deep sleep. The medication is prescribed in an effort to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks of narcolepsy.
Central nervous system stimulants should not be used to increase alertness or to substitute for sleep. Although they can cause loss of appetite and weight loss, they should not be used as "diet pills."
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