Pharmacotherapy of Down syndrome

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2018 Dec;19(17):1875-1889. doi: 10.1080/14656566.2018.1529167. Epub 2018 Oct 10.


Introduction: Comorbid psychiatric disorders are common in Down syndrome (DS). Evidence for pharmacotherapy of psychiatric co-morbidity in DS is limited. Areas covered: This article reviews the literature on the pharmacotherapy of psychiatric conditions co-occurring with DS, including major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), psychosis, and catatonia. A section on the phenomenon of regression is included. Expert opinion: For MDD, we typically begin with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). For bipolar disorder, we often use carbamazepine. For psychotic symptoms, we begin with risperidone or aripiprazole. We use buspirone to treat anxiety. For obsessional slowness/OCD, we begin with an SSRI. For stereotypical repetitive behavior, we tend to use buspirone. For ADHD, we begin with guanfacine. For irritability of comorbid ASD, we use risperidone or aripiprazole. For dementia in DS, we refer to a neurologist for medical work-up and medication management. We treat catatonia-like 'regression' with lorazepam. If ineffective, we use memantine or clozapine. Electroconvulsive therapy is considered if pharmacotherapy is ineffective. We treat 'regression' with symptoms of MDD ± psychosis, with an antidepressant and an antipsychotic if needed. Randomized controlled trials of medications for comorbid psychiatric disorders in DS are warranted.

Keywords: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; Down syndrome; autism spectrum disorder; catatonia; dementia; mood disorders; obsessive-compulsive disorder; psychopharmacology; psychosis; regression.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Central Nervous System Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Down Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Down Syndrome / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Agents