Efficacy and Tolerability of Pharmacotherapy for Pediatric Anxiety Disorders: A Network Meta-Analysis

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Objective: To evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of pharmacotherapy in pediatric anxiety disorders using network meta-analysis.

Data Sources: PubMed, Cochrane Database, Web of Science, PsycNET, and ClinicalTrials.gov were searched for double-blind, controlled pharmacotherapy trials in youth with anxiety disorders from 1966 to September 2017.

Data Selection: All double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of pharmacotherapy in the treatment of pediatric patients with generalized, social, and/or separation anxiety disorders were included.

Data Extraction: We extracted demographic, symptom severity, global improvement, discontinuation, and suicidality data. Risk of bias was assessed with the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool, and a network meta-analysis comparing the efficacy and tolerability of medications and medication classes was performed using the gemtc package (R).

Results: We identified 20 citations (22 RCTs, 24 treatment arms) with 2,623 patients. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were the only class that was superior in reducing anxiety (standardized mean difference: 5.2; credible interval [CrI]: [2.8 to 8.8]) and in likelihood of treatment response compared to placebo (odds ratio [OR]: 4.6; CrI: [3.1 to 7.5]). Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) and α2 agonist treatment were associated with more frequent treatment response compared to placebo. The likelihood of treatment response was greater for SSRIs compared to SNRIs (OR: 1.9; CrI: [1.1 to 3.5]). All-cause discontinuation and treatment-emergent suicidality significantly differed among medications but not medication class.

Conclusions: Although multiple medications reduce anxiety in children and adolescents, treatment response, tolerability, and treatment-emergent suicidality differ among these medications and medication classes. Determining whether efficacy and tolerability differences represent true differences (or reflect differences in trial design) requires additional head-to-head medication trials and—to exclude the impact of missing treatment interventions—requires trials of medications that successfully treat anxiety in adults but that have not been evaluated in youth.

J Clin Psychiatry 2019;80(1):17r12064

https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.17r12064