Evidence-Based Reviews

Agitation in children and adolescents: Diagnostic and treatment considerations

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In case reports, a combination of olanzapine with CNS-suppressing agents has resulted in death. Therefore, do not combine olanzapine with agents such as benzodiazepines.25 In a patient with a likely medical source of agitation, insufficient evidence exists to support the use of olanzapine, and additional research is needed.25

Low-dose haloperidol has been found to be effective for delirium-related agitation in pediatric studies.15 Before initiating an antipsychotic for any child or adolescent, review the patient’s family history for reports of early cardiac death and the patient’s own history of cardiac symptoms, palpitations, syncope, or prolonged QT interval. Monitor for QT prolongation. Among commonly used antipsychotics, the risk of QT prolongation is higher with IV administration of haloperidol and with ziprasidone. Studies show that compared with oral or IM haloperidol, the IV formulation has a higher risk of increased QTc interval, torsades de pointes, and sudden death.33 The FDA recommends continuous cardiac monitoring in adults receiving IV haloperidol. Data for its safety in children and adolescents are insufficient.

A few studies have found risperidone to be efficacious for treating ODD and conduct disorder; however, this use is off-label, and its considerable adverse effect and risk profile needs to be weighed against the potential benefit.8

Antipsychotic polypharmacy should be avoided because of the higher risk of adverse effects and interactions, and a lack of robust, controlled studies evaluating the safety of using antipsychotics for non-FDA-approved indications in children and adolescents.7 All patients who receive antipsychotics require monitoring for extrapyramidal symptoms, tardive dyskinesia, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, orthostatic hypotension, sedation, metabolic syndrome, and other potential adverse effects. Patients receiving risperidone need to have their prolactin levels monitored periodically, and their parents should be made aware of the potential for hyperprolactinemia and other adverse effects. Aripiprazole and quetiapine may increase the risk of suicidality.

Antiepileptics. A meta-analysis of 7 randomized controlled trials examining the use of antiepileptic medications (valproate, lamotrigine, levetiracetam, and topiramate) in children with autism spectrum disorder found no significant difference between placebo and these medications for addressing agitation.34

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