Pharmacologic treatment of severe irritability and problem behaviors in Autism: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Lawrence K. Fung, Rajneesh Mahajan, Alixandra Nozzolillo, Pilar Bernal, Aaron Krasner, Booil Jo, Daniel Coury, Agnes Whitaker, Jeremy Veenstra-Vanderweele, Antonio Y. Hardan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is increasingly recognized as a public health issue. Irritability and aggression (IA) often negatively affect the lives of people with ASD and their families. Although many medications have been tested for IA in ASDs in randomized controlled trials (RCTs), critical quantitative analyses of these trials are lacking in the literature. OBJECTIVES: To systematically review and quantitatively analyze the efficacy and safety of pharmacologic treatments for IA in youth with ASD. DATA SOURCES: Studies were identified from Medline, PsycINFO, Embase, and review articles. METHODS: Original articles on placebo-controlled RCTs of pharmacologic treatments of IA in youth age 2 to 17 years with ASD were included. Data items included study design, study goals, details of study participants, details of intervention, study results, statistical methods, side effects, and risks of bias. The primary study outcome measure was the effect size of reduction in the Aberrant Behavioral Checklist-Irritability (ABC-I) scores in the medication group, as compared with placebo, in RCTs using parallel groups design. RESULTS: Forty-six RCTs were identified. Compared with placebo, 3 compounds resulted in significant improvement in ABC-I at the end of treatment. Risperidone and aripiprazole were found to be the most effective, with the largest effect sizes. Sedation, extrapyramidal sides effects, and weight gain were assessed quantitatively. CONCLUSIONS: Although risperidone and aripiprazole have the strongest evidence in reducing ABC-I in youth with ASD, a few other compounds also showed significant efficacy with fewer potential side effects and adverse reactions in single studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S124-S135
StatePublished - Feb 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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