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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterised by abnormalities in social interaction and communication skills, as well as stereotypic behaviours and restricted activities and interests. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are prescribed for the treatment of co-morbidity associated with ASD such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviours. To determine if treatment with an SSRI: 1. improves the core features of autism (social interaction, communication and behavioural problems); 2. improves other non-core aspects of behaviour or function such as self-injurious behaviour; 3. improves the quality of life of children and their carers; 4. has short and long term effects on outcome; 5. causes harms. We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2009, Issue 4), MEDLINE ( December 2009), EMBASE (December 2009), CINAHL (December 2009), PsycINFO (December 2009) and ERIC (December 2009), without language restrictions. Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of any dose of oral SSRI compared with placebo, in participants with autism spectrum disorders. Trials must have included at least one standardised outcome measure. Two authors independently selected and appraised studies for inclusion and risk of bias. All data were continuous. Meta-analysis, where possible, used a random-effects model. Seven RCTs with a total of 271 participants were included. Four SSRIs were evaluated: fluoxetine (two studies), fluvoxamine (two studies), fenfluramine (two studies) and citalopram (one study). Five studies included only children and two studies included only adults. Varying inclusion criteria were used with regard to diagnostic criteria and intelligence of participants. Seventeen different outcome measures were reported. Although more than one study reported data for Clinical Global Impression (CGI) and obsessive-compulsive behaviour (OCB), different tool types or components of these outcomes were used in each study. As such, data were unsuitable for meta-analysis. One large, high quality study in children showed no evidence of positive effect of citalopram. Two small studies in adults showed positive outcomes for CGI and OCB; one study showed improvements in aggression and another in anxiety. There is no evidence of effect of SSRIs in children and emerging evidence of harm. There is limited evidence of the effectiveness of SSRIs in adults from small studies in which risk of bias is unclear.


Katrina Williams, Danielle M Wheeler, Natalie Silove, Philip Hazell. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2010(8):CD004677

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PMID: 20687077

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