An antidepressant that is among the most popular kinds of medicine used for treating autism didn’t work for most kids and caused nightmares and other side effects, new research found.
Results showed risks with Celexa outweighed any benefits in the largest published study of medication versus dummy pills for autism. That’s according to the lead author, Dr. Bryan King, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington medical school.
The drug is not approved for treating autism. However, many doctors have prescribed it, thinking it might help prevent repetitive behaviors such as spinning, twirling and head-banging that are hallmark autism symptoms. Similar antidepressants have been shown to help treat repetitive actions in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But in the autism study, Celexa worked no better than dummy pills. In fact, compared with kids on placebo, those on Celexa were more than twice as likely to develop repetitive behaviors, as well as other side effects including sleep problems and hyperactivity.
Celexa is in a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, among the most widely used medicines given for autism.
The research could “change this practice,” Yale University autism researcher Dr. Fred Volkmar wrote in an editorial released with the study Monday in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
The results echo a study reported in February that showed a low-dose form of Prozac, another SSRI, also did not reduce repetitive behaviors in autism.
The overall global market for drug treatment in autism is at least $2 billion and SSRI antidepressants account for nearly 60 percent of that, the study authors said.
Celexa’s maker, Forest Laboratories Inc., issued a statement saying the company “was not involved in this study and therefore cannot provide comment.”
The National Institutes of Health paid for the research.