Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and their colleagues in Germany, the USA and Finland have studied the safety of very long-term antipsychotic therapy for schizophrenia. According to the study, which is published in the scientific journal World Psychiatry , mortality was higher during periods when patients were not on medication than when they were.
People with schizophrenia have an average life expectancy ten to twenty years below the norm, and there has long been concern that one of the causes is the long-term use of antipsychotic drugs. Earlier compilations (meta-analyses) of results from randomized studies, however, indicated that the mortality rate for people with schizophrenia on antipsychotic medication was 30 to 50 per cent lower than those who have received placebo.
However, most of the studies done have been shorter than six months, which does not reflect the reality of treatment often being life-long. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet and their international colleagues have now done a long-term follow-up, substantiating previous results and demonstrating that antipsychotic drugs are not associated with increased risk of co-morbid complications, such as cardiovascular disease. The study is the largest conducted in the field to date.
It's difficult to make comparisons between people on permanent medication and those who aren't, as these groups differ in many ways. One common method of dealing with this has been to try to take account of such differences when making comparisons. However, we chose another method, in which each person was their own control, making it possible for us to make individual comparisons of hospitalization during periods of antipsychotic medication and periods of no treatment." Heidi Taipale, assistant professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet
The researchers monitored just over 62,000 Finns who had received a schizophrenia diagnosis at some time between 1972 and 2014. This they did by accessing various Finnish registries up until 2015, giving an average follow-up period of over 14 years. They found that the likelihood of being hospitalized for a somatic disease was just as high during the periods when the patients were on antipsychotic drugs as when they were not. The differences in mortality, however, were noticeable. The cumulative mortality rate in the follow-up period at periods of medication and non-medication was 26 and 46 per cent respectively. Related Stories
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