Children with autism have a high rate of irritability and aggressive symptoms. Irritability or self-injurious behavior can result in significant harm to those affected, as well as to marked distress for their families. This paper provides a literature review regarding the efficacy and tolerability of pharmacotherapy for the treatment of irritability in autistic children. Although antipsychotics have not yet been approved for the treatment of autistic children by many countries, they are often used to reduce symptoms of behavioral problems, including irritability, aggression, hyperactivity, and panic. However, among antipsychotics, the Food and Drug Administration has approved only risperidone and aripiprazole to treat irritability in autism. Among atypical antipsychotics, olanzapine and quetiapine are limited in their use for autism spectrum disorders in children because of high incidences of weight gain and sedation. In comparison, aripiprazole and ziprasidone cause less weight gain and sedation. However, potential QTc interval prolongation with ziprasidone has been reported. Contrary to ziprasidone, no changes were evident in the QT interval in any of the trials for aripiprazole. However, head-to-head comparison studies are needed to support that aripiprazole may be a promising drug that can be used to treat irritability in autistic children. On the other hand, risperidone has the greatest amount of evidence supporting it, including randomized controlled trials; thus, its efficacy and tolerability has been established in comparison with other agents. Further studies with risperidone as a control drug are needed.
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