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How is Celexa used to treat autism?

Celexa (citalopram), a prescription antidepressant, is not FDA-approved as an autism treatment, but it has been used for that purpose on an "off-label" basis (a common practice in medicine). However, recent research has found that it may not improve autism symptoms in many people who take it.

Doctors at six different medical institutions in the U.S. gave either Celexa or a placebo (a "sugar" pill with no active ingredients) to a total of 149 children ages 5 to 17 who had autism spectrum disorders, to see if Celexa could reduce repetitive behaviors in the children. At the end of 12 weeks, they found that slightly more children who took placebos exhibited a decrease in these behaviors than children who took Celexa. What's more, the children who took Celexa experienced more side effects, including hyperactivity, decreased concentration, diarrhea, trouble sleeping, increased energy level, impulsiveness and dry, itchy skin.

Celexa may be able to help children who have autism by improving symptoms of depression or anxiety, if they have them, but more research is needed to determine if it can have direct effects on autism symptoms.

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