Side Effects of Anxiety Medication on Children
Tue, April 20, 2021

Side Effects of Anxiety Medication on Children

Children and teenagers can experience anxiety; they usually feel it when they are in school or they are worried about an important exam. However, when anxiety becomes too much and impairs them from their daily functioning, it can be a sign of anxiety disorder / Photo by: Martin Novak via 123RF

 

Children and teenagers can experience anxiety; they usually feel it when they are in school or they are worried about an important exam. However, when anxiety becomes too much and impairs them from their daily functioning, it can be a sign of anxiety disorder. In the whole world, it is estimated that 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017 and 63% of them were female. 

Hence, children and teenagers who are diagnosed with this condition are normally given treatment including therapy and medication. However, new research published by the University of Cincinnati claims that there are specific side effects that can impact children and adolescents who are being treated for anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD).


What Is an Anxiety Disorder? 

People with anxiety disorder often experience intense, excessive, and persistent fear and worry about everyday tasks and situations. It can involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that can reach a peak within minutes. These episodes can often interfere with daily activities, are usually difficult to control, and can also last a long time. Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, separation anxiety, and types of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

According to Harvard Medical School, anxiety in children can be diagnosed by a pediatrician. Occasional anxiety for them is normal, however, if the anxiety limits the activities of a child when they worry often, it can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Severe anxiety can delay or derail a child’s development, so it is important to seek professional help at an early stage. 

Side Effects of Anxiety Medication 

Medication is an important and critical component when treating anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. Many children with anxiety disorders benefit from the combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and certain medication in overcoming debilitating symptoms of anxiety. Psychiatrists explain that the most common type of medication used to treat anxiety in children and teens is a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- they usually work by raising the levels of serotonin in the brain, enabling the brain to communicate better, improving the mood and reducing anxiety. 

According to Dr. Jeffrey Strawn, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, there are side effects of anxiety medication that can impact the children and adolescents who are being treated for anxiety and OCD. The research team is currently conducting the first round of studies examining the side effects of these anxiety medications, not just focusing on suicidal thinking or discontinuation of the medication. 

Dr. Strawn explains that over the past two decades, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, known as SSRIs, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors known as SNRIs, have become the standard medication for treating anxiety and OCD in children and these medications usually improve the symptoms and the functional outcomes. Their study was also published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 

In this study, the researchers wanted to examine the side effects that are commonly reported by pediatric patients when they are treated with antidepressants -- they usually complain of agitation, nausea, abdominal pain, insomnia, headache, and fatigue, in addition to suicidal thoughts when the medication or the antidepressants were discontinued. The research team looked at the academic peer-reviewed articles and identified SSRI and SNRI studies in patients who were under 18 years of age with anxiety disorders and OCD, while specifically noting side effects. 

The researchers used statistical tools such as the Bayesian hierarchial models that enabled them to combine the results they found across different studies into their own data while also taking into account the variations across the patients and participants in those studies. According to Dr. Jeffrey Mills, an associate professor in the Department of Economics at the UC Linder Collee of Business and an author of this study, out of the 18 trials that included 2,500 patients who were treated with a placebo and SSRI, they found out that the antidepressants produced more side effects and the most common symptom was agitation and behavioral change. 

Medication side effects are important for professionals and clinicians to consider, particularly when involving children. SSRIs and SNRIs may have harmful side effects, including suicidal thoughts, in patients who no longer take them. 

Medication is an important and critical component when treating anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. Many children with anxiety disorders benefit from the combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and certain medication in overcoming debilitating symptoms of anxiety / Photo by: KOSIN EURBOONYANUN via 123RF


How Parents Can Help Their Children With Anxiety 

Parents can also help manage their children’s anxiety using these steps, and they do not require any medication:

Model confidence - children can often sense the emotion that their parents radiate. So it is important for parents to be mindful of what they model through their words and body language. They must work on tempering overanxious reactions when it is appropriate.

Allow distress - avoiding distressing situations can only ease anxiety temporarily; it is only a bandaid solution. Parents should try distress tolerance tools instead, such as allowing their children to relax their tensed muscles or distracting themselves by other things that are not related to the cause of their anxiety. 

Practice exposure - gradual exposure to the thing that makes the child anxious can allow the child to survive anxious moments. For example, if the child is anxious about talking in public, parents can coach a child in ordering their food in a restaurant -- this can generate confidence within the child and lessen their anxiety.