Risks of Risperdal Use for Autism Treatment Highlighted in Report

A new report warns that use of the atypical antipsychotic medication Risperdal to treat autism may help reduce tantrums and improve focus, but it carries potentially serious risks, including weight gain, sleepiness and other side effects.

Risperdal (risperidone) was originally introduced for adults with schizophrenia, but it has been widely used for children with bi-polar disorders, autism, irritability, aggression and behavior disorders. It was the first drug ever approved by the FDA for treatment of some autism symptoms, and is the most widely known. In addition, it has been widely used off-label to treat hyperactivity and to reduce repetitive behaviors.

A report by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative released this week, highlights a number of concerns over the potential side effects of Risperdal for autism treatment.

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Side effects of Risperdal linked to risk of breast growth among young boys, or gynecomastia.


While experts indicate that Risperdal definitely can reduce tantrums and help autistic children focus on other methods of treatment, they also warn that it carries a serious risk of weight gain and fatigue. In addition, not everyone who is given the drug experiences the benefits and the problems frequently return when its use is stopped, experts told the Initiative.

On average, children given Risperdal experience about six pounds of weight gain within eight weeks of beginning therapy. While that may not seem like much to a 140 pound adult, for a 60 pound boy that gain is significant.

Weight gain associated with Risperdal and other atypical antipsychotics has also been associated with an increased risk of childhood diabetes. An August 2013 study published in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry found that side effects of Risperdal and other similar drugs may triple the risk of diabetes for children.

Use of Risperdal among young boys has also been linked to a rare disorder known as gynecomastia, which involves the abnormal growth of breasts among males. Due to the known weight gain associated with the drug, these Risperdal breast development problems are often not immediately diagnosed until the breast growth significantly outpaces the weight gain.

In recent years, Johnson & Johnson has been facing a growing number of Risperdal gynecomastia lawsuits brought on behalf of teens and young adults, which allege that the drug maker failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the risks associated with the medication. In some cases, plaintiffs indicate that boys using Risperdal have developed breasts measuring as large as a 38D cup size, often resulting in the need for surgical removal of the breasts.

This latest report published by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative concludes that Risperdal should be used with caution, and only for children with the most serious autism symptoms, and only after other treatment options have failed.


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