The use of fluoxetine for children has many different positive and negative points. The most prominent positive point is that it has been proven to be effective for treating moderate to severe depression in children, as well as other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Negative points include the drug's side effects, such as nausea, headaches, anxiety, and loss of appetite. One particularly serious negative point of using fluoxetine for children is the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior. The drug should only be prescribed to children who have not responded to psychotherapy after four to six sessions.
The main action of fluoxetine for children is the primary positive point associated with the use of the drug: treating depression. Doctors believe depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals within the brain, called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are messengers which stimulate different nerves and dictate a person’s moods. Fluoxetine is classed as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which stops nerves within the brain from taking up serotonin, an important mood-related neurotransmitter. This enables the chemical to roam around the brain and improve the child’s mood for longer.
Most parents will be concerned about the increased risk of suicidal behavior in children who use fluoxetine. This is a major concern for many regulatory drug agencies, and has prompted many to put prominent warnings on all antidepressant medications. Research has shown that the rates of suicidal thinking and behavior in depressed children taking a placebo treatment are at around 2 percent. This figure doubles to 4 percent for patients taking fluoxetine.
Other negative effects of fluoxetine for children are the side effects the drug can cause in all patients. This includes those related to possible allergic reactions, such as itching or a rash, and other common side effects such as dry mouth, abnormal dreams, vomiting, and frequent urination. More than one in ten patients taking fluoxetine will experience headaches, insomnia, diarrhea, and fatigue. The most serious and least likely side effects of fluoxetine for children include hallucinations, panic attacks, and mania.
Parents should consider all of the pros and cons of using fluoxetine for children before making a decision. The potential risks may discourage parents from advocating treatment, but it is important to remember the effects depression can have on a child’s life. The most severe possible effect of the treatment is the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior, but it is important to note that no children studied took their own lives. Parents should also remember that depression can cause suicidal thoughts and behavior as well, and children suffering from the condition may need some additional help to overcome it. Parents should discuss their concerns regarding the treatment with a doctor.