AIM: Cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered first-line treatments for childhood anxiety disorders (ADs). The objective of this current analysis was to conduct a network meta-analysis to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of CBT, pharmacotherapy, and the combination of the two in treating pediatric ADs.
METHODS: The studies included consisted of randomized controlled trials evaluating non-selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g. clomipramine), SSRIs, selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors, CBT, or a combination of CBT and pharmacotherapy. Studies were eligible for inclusion if participants were 18 years or younger.
RESULTS: A total of 86 studies were included, with a total of 7594 participants, of which 41.51% were females. For remission, all three treatments were significantly more effective than both placebo (ORs ranging from 0.07 and 0.18) and wait-list (ORs ranging from 0.06 and 0.16). In terms of the severity of anxiety symptoms, all treatment forms were significantly more effective for reducing anxiety than wait-list (standardized mean differences (SMDs) ranging from 0.98 and 2.91). Only pharmacotherapy was significantly more effective in reducing anxiety symptoms than placebo (SMD = 2.01, 95% confidence interval, 1.02 to 3.01). Overall, the results demonstrate that CBT, pharmacotherapy, and their combination are effective treatments for childhood ADs. There was no significant difference between the three treatment forms. However, CBT was associated with lower attrition rates.
CONCLUSION: CBT, pharmacotherapy, and the combination of the two should all be considered to treat youths with ADs. However, potential risks and benefits should be considered before devising a treatment plan.
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