Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Antipsychotics: new research deepens confusion

The drugs used to treat schizophrenia - known as antipsychotics - can have serious side effects. An older drug called clozapine can cause a condition called agranulocytosis - a decline in the body's number of white blood cells - which can be fatal. Partly because of this side effect clozapine has fallen out of fashion now and has been replaced by newer drugs such as quetiapine, resperidone and olanzapine. However, these drugs can be linked to an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A Finnish analysis of 10 years' worth of medical records covering 67,000 people by researchers at the University of Kuopio compared death rates in people taking different antipsychotic drugs. The study compared the drugs to an older 'first-generation' antipsychotic perphenazine. Clozapine was found to reduce mortality by 26% whereas quetiapine (41%), resperidone (34%) and olanzapine (13%) all increased deaths. There were no differences in death from heart disease between the different drugs but clozapine had a substantially lower risk of suicide whereas quetiapine increased the risk of people killing themselves. Clozapine is known to be more effective than other antipsychotic drugs and generic (i.e. cheaper) versions of it are now available leaving clinicians to weigh up the new research against the risk of agranulocytosis.

You can find out more about this research at

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