Antidepressants from the serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) group do not help children with autism, warn Australian researchers in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The information is published by the Eurekalert website.

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to patients suffering from autism spectrum disorders. Despite initial reports on the beneficial effects of these drugs on the condition of some adults, there is no evidence on the therapeutic effects of SSRIs in children; on the contrary, a long list of serious side effects is known.

Autism spectrum disorders are difficult to treat because patients have a whole range of different symptoms, mainly difficulties with social interaction and communication. SSRIs are the most commonly used group of medications for patients with depression, but doctors also use serotonin reuptake inhibitors in autistics, as there are abnormalities in signalling involving this neurotransmitter in patients.

Katrina Williams and her team from the University of New South Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospital in Sydney studied 271 patients – children with autism. The participants were given fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, fenfluramine and citalopram. The researchers observed no improvement, but found serious side effects, including repeated epileptic seizures in one child.

Based on the results, the authors emphasise that SSRI drugs cannot be recommended for autistic patients. For some adults who have depression and anxiety in addition to typical autistic symptoms, the case can be considered individually. (PAP)