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Assessing and Maximizing the Safety and Tolerability of Antipsychotics Used in the Treatment of Children and Adolescents

J Clin Psychiatry 2008;69(suppl 4):26-36

When taking antipsychotic medications, children and adolescents seem to have a higher risk than adults for experiencing adverse events such as extrapyramidal symptoms, prolactin elevation, sedation, weight gain, and metabolic effects. Side effects may be predicted by the pharmacologic binding profiles of antipsychotics to certain neuroreceptors. Data from 7 recently completed randomized placebo-controlled trials in adolescent schizophrenia and pediatric bipolar disorder that included a total of 1480 patients extend prior results and provide numbers-needed-to-harm as a clinically useful measure of risk. Results from these pediatric studies indicate that adverse effect profiles differ among commonly used antipsychotics. However, more detailed data are needed, as information is lacking regarding carryover or withdrawal effects from prior medications and regarding the masking of effects by adjunctive treatments used to treat agitation, insomnia, or extrapyramidal symptoms and akathisia in these studies. Moreover, randomized head-to-head trials and large-scale studies that investigate predictors of adverse effects as well as the safety and efficacy of interventions aimed at preventing and reversing negative effects of antipsychotics with relevant impact on psychological, psychiatric, and physical functioning are lacking. When choosing an antipsychotic treatment, patients and their families should be included in a careful risk-benefit assessment. Consideration of adverse effects, as well as dietary and lifestyle counseling, should be part of any antipsychotic treatment initiation and continuation. Routine, proactive monitoring of side effects is essential to optimize patient outcomes. In all treatment decisions, the benefits of improving often severe and debilitating manic, psychotic, and aggressive symptomatology must be balanced against the varying risks of adverse effects associated with specific antipsychotic agents in child and adolescent patients.