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article imageCan a blood pressure drug help with autism?

By Tim Sandle     Feb 10, 2016 in Science
New research suggests a common drug, administered to people with high blood pressure, could be effective for people with autism, in addressing some of the behaviors associated with the condition.
Autism is not a single condition; there are a range of different learning and behavior issues that run across the autism spectrum (hence the term "autism spectrum disorder"). The cause of autism is unknown, although a combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to act together. Autism appears in childhood, although not until a child is around three years of age.
A new study has examined if a blood pressure drug called propranolol can help with language and sociability skills in individuals with autism. Although the drug is intended to assess blood pressure, it is also used off-label for cases of anxiety.
Significantly, through various tests using the blood pressure drug and a placebo on children, the new study has found a single dose of propranolol (40 milligrams) can improve the conversational reciprocity skills of individuals with autism.
The improvements were seen around one hour later after the drug was given. This was measured using a scale to assess verbal and behaviour skills. For example, the researchers assessed:
Staying on topic,
Sharing information,
Reciprocity,
Interruptions,
Nonverbal communication, and
Maintaining eye contact.
While the results were clear, the study was small and further research to test out the effects of the medication are required.
The research is published in the journal Psychopharmacology. The paper is called “Effects of propranolol on conversational reciprocity in autism spectrum disorder: a pilot, double-blind, single-dose psychopharmacological challenge study.”
In related news, another study suggests there is a difference between boys and girls as to how they handle autism. The study showed infant girls who are at risk for autism pay more attention to social cues in faces than infant boys. This could mean girls cope with the effects slightly better. More research is needed, since sex-related social differences in at-risk infants is an under-researched topic (see the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry “Enhanced Social Attention in Female Infant Siblings at Risk for Autism.”)
More about Autism, autism spectrum disorders, Blood pressure, Medication
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