Inexpensive blood pressure drug propranolol reduces anxiety for people with autism

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Could a blood pressure medication help relieve anxiety among autistic adolescents and young adults? Propranolol is a beta blocker traditionally prescribed to help treat hypertension and lower blood pressure, but researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment report that the cardiovascular drug also appears capable of easing anxiety among both kids and young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Numerous studies have established that certain people with autism spectrum disorder habitually struggle with intense feelings of anxiety far more than their neurotypical peers. This work suggests propranolol may represent a real opportunity for relief among autistic individuals struggling with anxiety. Led by David Beversdorf, a clinician at the Thompson Center, the study included a total of 69 patients over the course of three years.

In comparison to a cohort of patients taking a placebo, participants taking propranolol showed significantly reduced anxiety levels at their 12-week check-up appointment. The research team was also sure to investigate if any significant changes in the individuals’ social communication skills appeared, but no such fluctuations emerged.

blood pressure
Propranolol is a beta blocker traditionally prescribed to help treat hypertension and lower blood pressure. (Photo by Thirdman from Pexels)

“The findings show that propranolol could serve as a helpful intervention for reducing anxiety for individuals with autism,” says Dr. Beversdorf, who also has appointments in the MU School of Medicine and the MU College of Arts and Science, in a media release. “This drug has been around since the 1960s and is very inexpensive. Up until now, we haven’t had any known drugs that target psychiatric issues specifically for individuals with autism, so these results are very promising and can support future research.”

As a practicing clinician, Dr. Beversdorf explains that he has seen firsthand the positive benefits propranolol can offer when it comes to improving overall quality of life – not just for the patients themselves but also their families and loved ones.

“As researchers, we try our best to improve the lives of our patients, and it feels rewarding to help out,” concludes Dr. Beversdorf, a professor of radiology, neurology, and psychological sciences as well as the William and Nancy Thompson Endowed Chair in Radiology. “I went into the field of neurology knowing I wanted to try to find new treatment options and interventions to benefit people with autism.”

The study is published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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John Anderer

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  1. I’ve known and have been utilizing propranol for many decades and was one factor allowing my integration into the neurotypical world. I worked in a senior level executive position for a global corporation. At age 49 I ended up leaving due autistic burnout. I have not worked a day since, as I am now 71. I started at the plant level and left as a director of world wide information technology. Not bad for a extremely premature autistic child.

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