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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

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Antidepressant Treats Severe Anxiety in Children

WebMD Health News

May 29, 2002 -- An antidepressant drug may be just what the doctor ordered for children suffering from disabling anxiety.

"These children are often in therapy [to help them manage their anxiety] but we've never had a good [drug] treatment for generalized anxiety disorder [in children]," researcher Arif Khan, MD, tells WebMD. "[Effexor] seems to be effective," he says.

"It doesn't replace therapy, but when used in combination, it may help break a deadlock so that the family therapy is more effective, and the child is able to function in school and other activities," he adds. Khan is medical director of the Northwest Clinical Research Center in Bellevue, Wash., and adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He has been a consultant for Effexor manufacturer Wyeth, which funded the study, but he has no other financial interest in the company.

For most children and adolescents, mild anxiety is a common problem that rarely interferes with school, extracurricular activities, or social life. But approximately 3% of kids and teens suffer from more significant anxiety, a condition called generalized anxiety disorder, which can be truly disabling and trigger high absenteeism from school, excessive shyness, and withdrawal from social activities.

Most often, children with generalized anxiety disorder are treated with various therapies to help them better manage anxiety-provoking situations.

But new research suggests that adding a popular drug called Effexor, currently used to treat depression and generalized anxiety in adults, may also be of benefit in kids. The researchers presented their findings recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Philadelphia.

The team followed 158 children aged 6-17 with generalized anxiety disorder. The kids were selected at random to receive Effexor or a placebo, adjusting the dose for each child's weight. Levels of disabling anxiety were measured both before and after treatment.

At the end of the study, the children who'd received the drug had far less anxiety than those who hadn't.

Experts are cautiously optimistic. "Parents need to know that this drug has not yet been approved by the FDA for the treatment of this disorder in children," lead investigator Nadia R. Kunz, PharmD, tells WebMD. "However, these are promising data." She is the director of clinical research and development in the neuroscience department of Wyeth Research.

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