Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Beneficial effect of autism drugs still unproven

One of the biggest concerns in healthcare these days is overmedication. That means a patient is taking unnecessary or excessive medications. This is partly fuelled by our attitude of trying to solve everything with a pill, but the pharmaceutical industry also plays a large role by trying to promote use of medicine for indications that do not require drugs at all. Most of this discussion takes place in the realm of psychology and psychiatry. Especially treatment of disturbances in behaviour, such as in autism, has been found questionable. A recent study from the Vanderbilt University reveals that medicating adolescents diagnosed with autism is indeed not proven to be favourable, casting doubts on the current clinical practice in autism treatment.

In order to discover the effect of medicinal treatment on autism symptoms, the scientists conducted a so-called meta-analysis, which comprises of taking together all relevant studies, of which consequently a general picture is formed. The analysis consisted of a total of 32 studies involving patients between the ages of 13 and 30 diagnosed with autism that were treated with a variety of drugs. From the data, the most important findings were published.

Of the studies that indicated that treating autistic adolescents is sensible, the scientists noted that there were not enough patients involved and that follow-up was limited, indicating that the evidence is not likely to reflect a real-life situation. On the other hand, some studies showed that certain anti-psychotic drugs ameliorated some behavioural problems associated with autism, such as aggression and irritability. Despite these positive effects, the drugs had several side effects, including weight gain and sedation.

The analysis shows that evidence regarding the efficacy of medicinal treatment for autism patients is at best preliminary. However, there is a big list of drugs that are approved for the use of treating autism, which means that many patients may be getting drugs without clear indication that there will be a beneficial effect. Because there is currently a rather large problem of overmedication, it may be worthwhile to assess whether a patient really needs the drug, and whether medicinal treatment actually has the capabilities to ameliorate the symptoms. Patients and doctors should ask themselves these questions.

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