Background: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed and treated psychiatric disorders in childhood. Typically, children and adolescents with ADHD find it difficult to pay attention and they are hyperactive and impulsive. Methylphenidate is the psychostimulant most often prescribed, but the evidence on benefits and harms is uncertain. This is an update of our comprehensive systematic review on benefits and harms published in 2015. Objectives: To assess the beneficial and harmful effects of methylphenidate for children and adolescents with ADHD. Search methods: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, three other databases and two trials registers up to March 2022. In addition, we checked reference lists and requested published and unpublished data from manufacturers of methylphenidate. Selection criteria: We included all randomised clinical trials (RCTs) comparing methylphenidate versus placebo or no intervention in children and adolescents aged 18 years and younger with a diagnosis of ADHD. The search was not limited by publication year or language, but trial inclusion required that 75% or more of participants had a normal intellectual quotient (IQ > 70). We assessed two primary outcomes, ADHD symptoms and serious adverse events, and three secondary outcomes, adverse events considered non-serious, general behaviour, and quality of life. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently conducted data extraction and risk of bias assessment for each trial. Six review authors including two review authors from the original publication participated in the update in 2022. We used standard Cochrane methodological procedures. Data from parallel-group trials and first-period data from cross-over trials formed the basis of our primary analyses. We undertook separate analyses using end-of-last period data from cross-over trials. We used Trial Sequential Analyses (TSA) to control for type I (5%) and type II (20%) errors, and we assessed and downgraded evidence according to the GRADE approach. Main results: We included 212 trials (16,302 participants randomised); 55 parallel-group trials (8104 participants randomised), and 156 cross-over trials (8033 participants randomised) as well as one trial with a parallel phase (114 participants randomised) and a cross-over phase (165 participants randomised). The mean age of participants was 9.8 years ranging from 3 to 18 years (two trials from 3 to 21 years). The male-female ratio was 3:1. Most trials were carried out in high-income countries, and 86/212 included trials (41%) were funded or partly funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Methylphenidate treatment duration ranged from 1 to 425 days, with a mean duration of 28.8 days. Trials compared methylphenidate with placebo (200 trials) and with no intervention (12 trials). Only 165/212 trials included usable data on one or more outcomes from 14,271 participants. Of the 212 trials, we assessed 191 at high risk of bias and 21 at low risk of bias. If, however, deblinding of methylphenidate due to typical adverse events is considered, then all 212 trials were at high risk of bias. Primary outcomes: methylphenidate versus placebo or no intervention may improve teacher-rated ADHD symptoms (standardised mean difference (SMD) −0.74, 95% confidence interval (CI) −0.88 to −0.61; I² = 38%; 21 trials; 1728 participants; very low-certainty evidence). This corresponds to a mean difference (MD) of −10.58 (95% CI −12.58 to −8.72) on the ADHD Rating Scale (ADHD-RS; range 0 to 72 points). The minimal clinically relevant difference is considered to be a change of 6.6 points on the ADHD-RS. Methylphenidate may not affect serious adverse events (risk ratio (RR) 0.80, 95% CI 0.39 to 1.67; I² = 0%; 26 trials, 3673 participants; very low-certainty evidence). The TSA-adjusted intervention effect was RR 0.91 (CI 0.31 to 2.68). Secondary outcomes: methylphenidate may cause more adverse events considered non-serious versus placebo or no intervention (RR 1.23, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.37; I² = 72%; 35 trials 5342 participants; very low-certainty evidence). The TSA-adjusted intervention effect was RR 1.22 (CI 1.08 to 1.43). Methylphenidate may improve teacher-rated general behaviour versus placebo (SMD −0.62, 95% CI −0.91 to −0.33; I² = 68%; 7 trials 792 participants; very low-certainty evidence), but may not affect quality of life (SMD 0.40, 95% CI −0.03 to 0.83; I² = 81%; 4 trials, 608 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Authors' conclusions: The majority of our conclusions from the 2015 version of this review still apply. Our updated meta-analyses suggest that methylphenidate versus placebo or no-intervention may improve teacher-rated ADHD symptoms and general behaviour in children and adolescents with ADHD. There may be no effects on serious adverse events and quality of life. Methylphenidate may be associated with an increased risk of adverse events considered non-serious, such as sleep problems and decreased appetite. However, the certainty of the evidence for all outcomes is very low and therefore the true magnitude of effects remain unclear. Due to the frequency of non-serious adverse events associated with methylphenidate, the blinding of participants and outcome assessors is particularly challenging. To accommodate this challenge, an active placebo should be sought and utilised. It may be difficult to find such a drug, but identifying a substance that could mimic the easily recognised adverse effects of methylphenidate would avert the unblinding that detrimentally affects current randomised trials. Future systematic reviews should investigate the subgroups of patients with ADHD that may benefit most and least from methylphenidate. This could be done with individual participant data to investigate predictors and modifiers like age, comorbidity, and ADHD subtypes.
- Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity/drug therapy
- Central Nervous System Stimulants/adverse effects
- Cross-Over Studies
- Methylphenidate/adverse effects
- Quality of Life
- Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic