This information is for people who have a child with autism. It tells you about chelation, a treatment used for autism. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.
Does it work?
We don't know. There hasn't been enough research to say whether chelation works for autism. But we do know that some children have died after one type of chelation treatment.
What is it?
Chelation is a treatment that reduces the amount of metals in your body. People are given this treatment if they have been accidentally exposed to unsafe levels of heavy metals (for example, if they have lead poisoning).
Doctors use different types of drugs for this treatment. Usually, the drugs are given as tablets or liquids. The one used most often is called succinate.
How can it help?
We don't know if it can help. Chelation therapy isn't likely to help people who don't have abnormally high levels of heavy metals in their body. There haven't been any good-quality studies (randomised controlled trials) that have looked at whether children with autism might benefit from this treatment.
How does it work?
Some people think that autism may be caused by a build-up of certain types of metal in the body, such as mercury and lead. But we don't know whether this is the case.
Can it be harmful?
Yes. We know people have died after being given chelation therapy. Two children and an adult died in the United States after having chelation therapy.  The drug used was thought to be edetate disodium, given through a drip (also called an IV or an intravenous infusion). This drug can decrease the amount of calcium in your body too much. Calcium is important to keep your heart working properly. If the amount of calcium gets too low, your heart may stop working. This can be fatal.
Chelation therapy mostly doesn't use edetate disodium. The reports on the deaths said that this drug may have been used by mistake, instead of another very similar drug.
As there isn't any evidence to say whether chelation therapy works, parents should be wary of its dangers.
How good is the research on chelation?
We didn't find any good-quality studies (randomised controlled trials) that looked at whether chelation can help children with autism.
When a medicine or a fluid, such as blood, is fed directly into a vein, it's called an intravenous infusion (or IV). To give you an intravenous infusion, a nurse, technician or a doctor places a narrow plastic tube into a vein (usually in your arm) using a needle. The needle is then removed and the fluid is infused (or dripped) through the tube into the vein.
randomised controlled trials
Randomised controlled trials are medical studies designed to test whether a treatment works. Patients are split into groups. One group is given the treatment being tested (for example, an antidepressant drug) while another group (called the comparison or control group) is given an alternative treatment. This could be a different type of drug or a dummy treatment (a placebo). Researchers then compare the effects of the different treatments.
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