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Antidepressants Not Shown to Benefit Children with Autism

A new study finds that there is no evidence of any benefits associated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in children with autism, and that the drugs may even lead to serious adverse effects.

A new study by Cochrane Researchers finds that there is no evidence of any benefits associated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in children with autism, and that the drugs may even lead to serious adverse effects.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) can be difficult to treat due to the range of symptoms experienced by patients, including difficulties with social interactions and communication. Although SSRIs are among the most commonly prescribed medications for ASD, none of the antidepressants have been specifically approved to treat the condition.

In an effort to determine whether treatment with an SSRI is safe and effective in children with ASD, a team of researchers led by Katrina Williams of the University of New South Wales & Sydney Children’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, analyzed results from seven trials evaluating the use of four SSRIs: fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, fenfluramine and citalopram.

In five of the trials, the investigators found no benefit in children and some evidence of serious harm, and in the two trials involving adults, there wasn’t sufficient evidence for the drugs to be recommended. Because more than one study reported data for Clinical Global Impression and obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and different tool types or components of these outcomes were used in each study, data were unsuitable for meta-analysis.

The authors concluded that “there is no evidence of effect of SSRIs in children and emerging evidence of harm,” and that “there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of SSRIs in adults from small studies in which risk of bias is unclear.”

Therefore, they do not recommend SSRIs as treatments for children or adults with autism.