The Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (“SSRIs”) are useful for the treatment of OCD and anxiety symptoms in PANDAS/PANS. The SSRIs include fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, sertraline, and paroxetine. Although all have a primary effect on serotonin reuptake, each has additional therapeutic effects which cause a variety of side effects. For example, some SSRIs (such as fluoxetine) can cause significant “activation” and should be avoided in children who are already having insomnia and sleep difficulties. An adequate trial of an SSRI is 10-12 weeks at maximum dosage. BUT, the medications MUST be started at an extremely low dose (e.g., 1/4th or less of that used for a typical child) and tapered upward very slowly to avoid activation, agitation, akathisia, and other adverse effects of the drugs.
SSRIs MUST be started at an extremely low dose (e.g., 1/4th or less of that used for a typical child) and tapered upward very slowly to avoid activation, agitation, akathisia, and other adverse effects of the drugs.
Although most side effects are easily managed, the development of suicidal thoughts and/or actions is a cause for immediate concern. The SSRIs are known to cause suicidality in children (the mechanism is unknown) and because of this, the FDA has issued a “black box” warning for their use in pediatric patients. The risk of suicidal thoughts is low and the risk of suicidal behaviors is lower, but even one child is too many – so caution must be exercised with use of the SSRIs. If suicidal thoughts/behaviors develop, the child must be monitored closely as the SSRI is discontinued (remembering that some of the drugs will require tapering to avoid additional adverse effects). In most patients, the therapeutic benefits far outweigh the (rare) children. Parents should be aware of reports of suicidal thoughts and behaviors developing during SSRI administration.