NEW YORK – Treatment that combines a certain type of psychotherapy with an antidepressant medication is most likely to help children with anxiety disorders, but each of the treatments alone are also effective, according to a new study led by researchers from Columbia University Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Temple University. The study, funded by the National Institute’s of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was published online at 2:30 p.m. ET on Oct. 30, 2008, in the New England Journal of Medicine. This publication coincides with a presentation on the results at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry annual meeting in Chicago.
“Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders affecting children and adolescents. Untreated anxiety can undermine a child’s success in school, jeopardize his or her relationships with family, and inhibit social functioning,” said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. “This study provides strong evidence and reassurance to parents that a well-designed, two-pronged treatment approach is the gold standard, while a single line of treatment is still effective.”
“This trial is significant as it is the largest and only to date study comparing different modes of treatment for anxiety disorders in youth with separation anxiety, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorders,” said Anne Marie Albano, Ph.D., an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a New York State Psychiatric Institute researcher, a senior investigator of the study. “This important data will help physicians and parents determine appropriate treatment for children and adolescents with these anxiety disorders, which can be debilitating.”
The Child/Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS) randomly assigned 488 children ages 7 years to 17 years to one of four treatment options for a 12-week period:
§ Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a specific type of therapy that, for this study, taught children about anxiety and helped them face and master their fears by guiding them through structured tasks;
§ The antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI);
§ CBT combined with sertraline;
§ pill placebo (sugar pill).
The children, recruited from six regionally dispersed sites throughout the United States, all had moderate to severe separation anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or social phobia. Many also had coexisting disorders, including other anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and behavior problems.
John Walkup, M.D., of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and colleagues found that among those in combination treatment, 81 percent improved. Sixty percent in the CBT-only group improved, and 55 percent in the sertraline-only group improved. Among those on placebo, 24 percent improved.
A second phase of the study will monitor the children for an additional six months.
“CAMS clearly showed that combination treatment is the most effective for these children. But sertraline alone or CBT alone showed a good response rate as well. This suggests that clinicians and families have three good options to consider for young people with anxiety disorders, depending on treatment availability and costs,” said Walkup.
Results also showed that the treatments were safe. Children taking sertraline alone showed no more side effects than the children taking the placebo and few children discontinued the trial due to side effects. In addition, no child attempted suicide, a rare side effect sometimes associated with antidepressant medications in children.
CAMS findings echo previous studies in which sertraline and other SSRIs were found to be effective in treating childhood anxiety disorder. The study’s results also add more evidence that high-quality CBT, with or without medication, can effectively treat anxiety disorders in children, according to the researchers.
“Further analyses of the CAMS data may help us predict who is most likely to respond to which treatment, and develop more personalized treatment approaches for children with anxiety disorders,” concluded Philip C. Kendall, Ph.D., of Temple University, a senior investigator of the study. “But in the meantime, we can be assured that we already have good treatments at our disposal.”
The six CAMS sites were Duke University; New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia University Medical Center; Johns Hopkins University; Temple University/University of Pennsylvania; University of California, Los Angeles; and the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic/University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
;The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) mission is to reduce the burden of mental and behavioral disorders through research on mind, brain, and behavior.
More information is available at the NIMH website, www.nimh.nih.gov. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
Reference: Walkup JT, Albano AM, Piacentini J, Birmaher B, Compton SN, Sherrill J, Ginsburg GS, Rynn MA, McCracken J, Waslick B, Iyengar S, March JS, Kendall PC. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, sertraline and their combination for children and adolescents with anxiety disorders: acute phase efficacy and safety. New England Journal of Medicine. Online ahead of print 30 Oct 2008.
Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree. Among the most selective medical schools in the country, the school is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York State and one of the largest in the country. For more information, please visit www.cumc.columbia.edu.