Switching Antipsychotics May Reduce Metabolic Risks

NIMH-funded study examines whether switching to a different antipsychotic can reduce side effects while maintaining effectiveness

Patients experiencing cardiovascular or metabolic side effects while taking an antipsychotic medication may fare better if they switch to a different medication provided they are closely monitored, according to an NIMH-funded study. The study was published online ahead of print July 18, 2011, in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Antipsychotic medications can effectively treat psychotic symptoms among people with schizophrenia or related disorders. However, the medications, especially some of those that are most commonly used, are associated with serious metabolic side effects that can lead to heart disease or diabetes. Even when patients do experience these side effects, doctors are often reluctant to change a patient’s medication regimen if the patient’s psychotic symptoms are controlled by the existing medication.

“Treating the symptoms of schizophrenia is a delicate balancing act between risks and benefits,” said National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. “The possible benefits of switching medications to reduce metabolic risks must be carefully weighed against the potential risk of symptom relapse or medication failure.”

Scott Stroup, M.D., of Columbia University and colleagues aimed to determine if a medication switch could be made safely and without sacrificing clinical stability. For the Comparison of Antipsychotics for Metabolic Problems (CAMP) study, they enrolled 215 patients from 27 clinical sites whose psychotic symptoms were stabilized on one of three frequently used antipsychotics (olanzapine, quetiapine or risperidone) but were experiencing serious metabolic side effects such as weight gain and high cholesterol levels. Half of the patients were assigned to stay on their current medication, while the other half were switched to aripiprazole, another antipsychotic that is generally associated with fewer metabolic risks. All of the participants received a behavioral intervention that included a diet and exercise program designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease….

Colleen Labbe
NIMH Press Office

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