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Adrienne Dellwo

Will Ritalin Become a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment?

By June 19, 2008

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Based on the results of one small study, two doctors in Spain are calling for a closer look at the ADHD drug methylphenidate (the drug in Ritalin, Methadate and Concerta) for treating the neurocognitive effects of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS).

On top of study results, the doctors point to the fact that ADHD and ME/CFS have several cognitive symptoms in common, including:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulties with short-term memory and thinking
  • Impaired attention and slowed processing speed

Also, they say some of the same things appear to be going on in the brains of people with both disorders, such as low dopamine and norepinephrine activity. Methylphenidate, a neurostimulator, boosts both of those neurotransmitters. Two other drugs in its class - Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) - also have been advocated to improve neurocognitive problems.

Do you think ADHD drugs could be the answer? I'd love to hear from anyone who's taken them. Have they helped? Share your opinions and experiences here or in About.com's Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forum.

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June 24, 2008 at 9:30 am
(1) Anne says:

I was on Wellbutrin for quite a while for depression, it did nothing for the depression or the CF.

August 8, 2008 at 6:55 pm
(2) Paul says:

As a doctorate student in psychology & psychotherapy I am right now writing about schizophrenia and brain functions, we know a lot more now than when the dopamine theory was invented. Amphetamine induced psychosis in normals, as did too much L-Dopa against Parkinsonism. In ADHD Ritalin mimicks amphetamine, so the effect is opposite!! That’s the paradox. Ritalin works directly into the Central nervous system. If you have ME instead of CFS, I guess you could go straight into psychosis. With ME you may have a low grade infection in the spinal fluid, too. I am not a medical doctor, but from seeing antipsychotics and long term break down of the dopamine system as a consequence, I would think twice. I may be wrong, but it is spurious thinking:

Actually, if the effect is via dopamine or norepineprine (noradrenaline), somebody on SNRI (slightly different from SSRI e.g. Prozac) should have an effect. If you THEN add Ritalin (works straight away), you should already be there. If the theory is wrong, you won’t have wasted more than a few hours.

The brain is complex and we are nowhere near knowing what concentration and awareness is. But we do know that everything is connected to everything. Be careful with drugs!

March 25, 2009 at 2:32 pm
(3) alan says:

I’d really like to know how to approach my general practitioner with this. I tried 1 adhd med borrowed from a friend, and after some initial jitteryness, had a few productive hours both in terms of alertness and physical activity despite feeling very tired beforehand. It seems because of abuse, doctors are suspicious about prescribing them.

March 30, 2009 at 2:01 pm
(4) Adrienne - Your Guide to FMS & ME/CFS says:


I’d recommend printing out research abstracts for your doctor, in case he/she hasn’t seen them. Here’s the one for this study:

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Methylphenidate

Here’s another:

Methylphenidate & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

It’s true that there are abuse issues tied to these drugs, but hopefully your doctor will see the possible therapeutic benefit for you. Best of luck!

August 26, 2009 at 7:41 pm
(5) Michelle says:

I have been sick for over three years, and was just recently diagnosed with CFS. After hours and hours of research, and being fed up with not being able to accomplish anything, I talked with my doctor about Ritalin. He agreed that taking Ritalin LA 20mg, Pristiq, Flexeril and Ambien was really all that I could do.

I have noticed improvement almost immediately! I no longer just want to sit and sleep. I am very much more productive throughout the day. I would almost say I feel “normal” most of the day.

The only bothersome side effect that I am experiencing is increased sweating. I am hoping that the sweating will decrease with time.

February 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm
(6) Priscilla says:

Hi, I too have CFS… So far as the sweating, I had an issue with it as well and I started using that 72 hour Certain Dri Anti-perspirant and it is awesome. Use that at night and deoderant during the day. It’ll help with the sweating!

March 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm
(7) Catherine W. says:

I was put on Ritalin for ADD, depression, and chronic fatigue about two weeks ago and I am happy I am on it. I have Fibromyalgia and over the past few years, the chronic fatigue has gotten worse along with congitive problems. I take 10-20 mg. a day now and am happy to have a few hours here and there where I can feel motivated and energized enough to get things done and actually be able to focus on them too. I do tend to crash a bit when it wears off and get a bit of a headache, but then I lower my dose. I was crashing anyway by default, so that is not that big of a deal. I had to get used to the side effects, but the the extent of them died down soon enough. It has not affected my appetite and my sleep is getting back to normal with melatonin supplement. Hope this helps!

August 14, 2010 at 10:56 am
(8) Ron says:

2 days ago, I went to the absolute best Dr (MD Anderson-Houston) with my leukemia problem. I am doing excellent…the only problem is that particularily in the earliest stages, fatigue and sleepiness are the greatest problem. For that, the dr gave me 5mg Ritalin twice a day. Although it is supposed to take several weeks to benefit, I feel more daytime energy already and my night sleep seems better as well.

September 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm
(9) Dave, Glendale says:

For two years I’ve had heavy fatigue from Hep-C. Ritalin 10mg 2-3Xday has worked for me for six months now. I went from sleeping 19 hours/day to 7 and I feel normally energetic and happy. I am however starting to have side effects such as the urge to raise my eyebrows over and over at times. I don’t care. At least I’m awake and alive (for now). I’ve tried all the over the counter stimulants, as well as a stretch of Provigil, but Rit is tops.

October 16, 2010 at 10:02 pm
(10) Martha says:

I had pretty good luck with Provigil, but my insurance won’t approve it. Just got a script for Ritalin and I’m encouraged by the comments I’ve seen here.

I’ve had FMS for 16 years, but no one even knew that I was sick (at least after the first 2 years) until 2006 when my thyroid blew. Now, I have CFS and I can stand the pain far better than I can deal with the fatigue. I have no life!

I hope by this time next week I am feeling more energetic!

October 18, 2011 at 9:37 pm
(11) Sandy says:

I was taking 10mg adderall for fibromyalgia symptoms, and it helped me to not only stay awake throughout the day, but also helped with the pain and morning stiffness. I could get outta bed, play with the kids, and do housework. Almost felt normal again.

February 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm
(12) Karen says:

I’ve had severe fatigue and slowed brain function at times for the past five years; it was triggered by a severe bout of mono. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has helped me get through the 3:00-5:00 time frame in the afternoon. I teach and have a very hard time focusing then…I’m exhausted, can’t think, and easily derail. I’ve been to numerous doctors and everything tests normal. Some doctors thought my thyroid seemed low and so prescribed thyroid meds. These did nothing. Desperate, I thought that Ritalin or Provigil might help with the focusing or offset the fatigue. I took Ritalin for the first time today and it was unbelievable; it was like my brain — and my body — was at the Bahamas — or was normal again. I felt relaxed, clear and great. (Felt like I was 20 instead of 70. I am 46.) Antidepressants did zip for me, incidentally. So — wow. The great thing is that I can research what Ritalin treats and maybe hopefully get some help with my condition. The doctors really do not know how to help with this stuff. Have had a host of other, equally challenging symptoms. I blame it on being run down and contracting the original mono. It’s been hellish since then — very tough to diagnose, much less treat –

April 27, 2012 at 9:06 am
(13) jim says:

Having had CFS for over a year, I was very happy to find in research that Ritalin may be helpful. I did look at the negative side effects that Ritalin may cause, however in my opinion nothing could be worse then the side effects of CFS. Anyways have taken Ritalin for 3 months now and my life is back to normal and very happy. I strongly recommend Ritalin for people who have CFS!

November 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm
(14) MK Gilbert says:

Total mistake for me! Made me agitated, raised my pulse/BP which are too high anyway~I take Cymbalta which I can’t seem to live without but I think it’s causing heart problems/palpitations. Am still totally dragged out all the time~not sleeping well, but sleeping meds make me more groggy, even “natural” ones. Melatonin seems to aggravate depression. Have SADD as well, so just want to hibernate in fall/winter. Beta-blocker given for heart gave me bi-polar like weekly severe mood swings with suicial thots. Only my faith & family keep me alive. Hate living this way. Natural treatments for hypothyroid and adrenal fatigue also increased agitation, pulse and BP ~even gave me panic attacks! Wish I could find someone who could help me. No insurance, low funds. Can’t work much at all. No gov’t benefits, tho. Hubby is self-employed.

June 9, 2013 at 9:09 am
(15) Mary says:

It has worked for me to. It gave me back my live.

October 8, 2013 at 10:33 am
(16) allisun says:

Hey everyone! Just wondering if you guys have all been tested for Lyme Disease? Your symptoms sound a lot like it and many are not aware of Lyme symptoms so I just thought I’d put that out there just incase it may be helpful to get tested. I hope you all feel better soon!

November 29, 2013 at 9:41 am
(17) ycjc says:

Yes, I do have Lyme disease and now dealing with CF and Chronic pain. As curing my Lyme in Canada is impossible, I suffer with such pain that I’m on a very strong painkiller that has helped reduce my pain but leaves me sleepy all day, with no energy. To say the least I just started my first Ritilan pill about 1/2 hr ago and I’m going to see how my say turns out, let you all know soon.

February 6, 2014 at 9:31 am
(18) CL says:

On my worst days, I’ll fall asleep even when having taken 350 mg Wellbutrin and 20 mg Ritalin. I’ve been on Ritalin for about 5 years, with a few “breaks” – so you could suspect that I’ve only become immune to methylphenidate. But no, I think it’s rather that my symptoms have been getting worse – or my ADD perhaps not really being ADD, but CFS, and then later on, symptoms of FM has “bloomed” on top of the fatigue and cognitive issues I started out with. I tried going off both meds to see what would happen. Well: I can confirm that, for me, although it’s no wonder cure, both Wellbutrin and Ritalin help me tremendously. But I must be careful with the Ritalin, because on a bad day, a “normal” dose will give me extreme head, neck and shoulder pain.

April 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm
(19) Jennifer says:

After suffering from severe fatigue and memory problems for over 10 years, I was finally diagnosed with Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency. After trying numerous medications for the past four years I was finally prescribed Methylphenidate. It worked good for about a week and then nothing. I was then prescribed Dextroamphetamine which seemed to keep me awake but I was still too fatigued to get out of bed. After calling some pharmacists to inquire about the risks of taking the two medicines together, I started my own trial. Immediately, I noticed that I had normal energy. Not crazy energy but I felt like a human being again. I have been taking them with the approval of all my doctors for three months and I cant imagine my life without them. I cry when my meds run out because I have to wait until the day it is out to pick up the new prescriptions. Something legal about abusing the meds or something, so they cant give you too many pills. Anyway, I pray that others with this condition can benefit from a trial. I don’t care about the risks of these medications because I didn’t have a life without them. If I was able to be woken up I would just go to sleep again. I called myself Rip Van Winkle. I am just sorry I lost so much time out of my life. Prayers that my body does not become use to these meds and stop working. That is my biggest fear!

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