According to a Cochrane review, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) -also known as antidepressants - can't be recommended for treating autism in children or adults.
Katrina Williams, PhD, of the University of New South Wales and Sydney Children's Hospital in Sydney, Australia and colleagues reported that the antidepressants have shown emerging evidence of harm without any benefit in pediatric cases.
Decisions about the use of SSRIs for established clinical indications that may co-occur with autism, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression in adults or children, and anxiety in adults, should be made on a case-by-case basis, said the researchers.
According to Williams and her colleagues, physicians need to be explicit with parents and patients about the limited evidence, risks of SSRI treatment and other options.
The use of antidepressant for adults is not limited as previous research has confirmed their benefits in improving symptoms and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
The researchers found 5 previous studies that involved only children and two that involved adults and studies the effects of oral dose of SSRI among the study participants.
The antidepressants used in the trials included fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxomine (Luvox), fenfluramine (Pondimin) and citalopram (Celexa).
The findings discovered that none of these drugs given on patients for 5 to 18 weeks had much effect in improving the symptoms in autistic children.
Children taking citalopram and fluvoxamine had experienced severe seizures and weight loss was associated with children who were taking fenfluramine.
In adults, fluvoxamine and fluoxetine reduced symptoms of anxiety and obsession. The findings showed no significant adverse effects on autistic adults.
The researchers added that there was lack of research on sertraline (Zoloft) - another commonly used antidepressants - for the treatment of autistic children and adults.
More future studies are needed to confirm the drugs to avoid for treating autistic children and adults.