Early Intervention Works in Schizophrenia: Also Needed in Bipolar Disorder

October 4, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments, Peer-Reviewed Published Data · Comment 

man

For twenty years, evidence has shown that early intervention can ameliorate many of the adverse consequences of schizophrenia. In a 2018 article in the journal Annual Review of Clinical Psychiatry titled “Transforming the treatment of schizophrenia in the United States: The RAISE Initiative,” Lisa B. Dixon and colleagues described the importance of early intervention in schizophrenia. RAISE stands for Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode. Dixon and colleagues emphasize that shortening the time that a patient’s psychosis goes untreated, which averages 74 months, is critical to achieving good outcomes. In parallel to these consistent findings, researchers of bipolar disorder (including this editor Robert M. Post and colleagues) have found that an increased length of the interval before treatment is initiated in childhood-onset bipolar disorder is associated with a poor outcome in adulthood.

The RAISE program consists of four interventions: personalized psychopharmacology using a computerized decision support system, individual resilience therapy, family psychoeducation and therapy, and supportive employment and education. Compared with patients receiving standard treatments, patients who participated in the RAISE program showed greater improvements on almost all measures, including the Heinrichs-Carpenter Quality of Life Scale (main outcome), the Calgary Depression Scale for Schizophrenia, the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, treatment duration, and engagement in work and school. Moreover, the improvements were more substantial among patients with a shorter duration of untreated psychosis.

Editor’s Note: These findings are of great importance in their own right, but they also have great implications for treatment and research efforts in bipolar disorder. A 2013 randomized study by Lars Kessing and colleagues published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that in bipolar patients hospitalized for a first or second episode of mania, two years of comprehensive treatment with psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and illness education that included mood monitoring and early symptom recognition was vastly superior to typical treatment, and this held true even six years later. In a 2014 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry and a 2016 article in the journal Bipolar Disorders, researcher Jan Marie Kozicky and colleagues reported that in patients hospitalized with a first episode of mania, cognitive functioning and brain imaging abnormalities, respectively, returned to normal over the next year only if the patients experienced no further mood episodes. The message is clear: we must treat the first episode of mania comprehensively to avoid long-term deterioration, which occurs as a function of the number of episodes of mania or depression a patient experiences. However, this early multimodal approach is rarely taken in the US.

In schizophrenia, Dixon and colleagues noted that: “After the RAISE study reports were made available, Congress allocated additional funding to the community mental health …program, leading to growth in the number of…programs across the United States; they were expected to reach 48 states in 2018.”

The contrast between these efforts in schizophrenia and their virtual absence in bipolar disorder is incomprehensible and tragic. Studies in early schizophrenia have been funded for 25 years, while almost none have been funded in bipolar disorder, even in recent years. Community mental health programs for early schizophrenia will soon exist in 48 states; for patients with bipolar disorder there are no programs available in any state that I am aware of. The incidence of bipolar is about three times that of schizophrenia, and the long-term outcomes are often as devastating in bipolar disorder as in schizophrenia. There is a high incidence of drug abuse; social, educational and occupational deficits; and suicide in bipolar disorder. Early intervention with the many safe supplements, nutraceuticals, and well-tolerated drugs that are currently available to adult patients should be studied in young people with bipolar disorder, but such studies neither being funded nor conducted.

The reality is that childhood-onset bipolar disorder is poorly recognized and treated in the US, largely because of a paucity of treatment-related studies and knowledge about the best options for these young patients. If a reader of the BNN knows how to influence advocacy groups, leaders in the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), or influential politicians, it would be useful to take the initiative in bringing some of these deficits and disparities to their attention. Something must be done; ideas about how to do it are welcome. My own efforts to get funding for a childhood-onset bipolar research network in collaboration with such luminaries in the field as David Miklowitz (UCLA), Kiki D. Chang (Stanford University), Boris Birmaher (University of Pittsburg), Benjamin Goldstein (Stonybrook Research Institute), Eric Youngstrom (UNC, Chapel Hill), Soledad Romero (Hospital Clinic of Barcelona), and Josefina Castro Fornieles (University of Barcelona) have not been successful. We will keep trying, but the field needs to reach beyond the many investigators who are advocating for more treatment research to other people with more influence.

Large Finnish Study Finds Lithium is Best at Preventing Re-Hospitalizations in Bipolar Disorder

June 13, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments, Peer-Reviewed Published Data · Comment 

hospital

A 2018 article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry reports that lithium and long-acting antipsychotic injections were most effective at preventing re-hospitalizations among people with bipolar disorder.

The study by Markku Lähteenvuo and colleagues included 18,018 Finnish patients with bipolar disorder. A national database contained information on any hospitalizations that occurred among the patients and what medications were dispersed to patients.

Among the participants, 54% (9,721 patients) were re-hospitalized at least once over a study period of 16 years. Medications associated with the smallest risk of re-hospitalization for psychiatric reasons were long-acting injections of risperidone, gabapentin, long-acting injections of perphenazine, and lithium carbonate.
When the researchers looked at hospitalizations for any cause (not just psychiatric illness), lithium was associated with the least risk of re-hospitalization, while benzodiazepines had the greatest risk, both for psychiatric re-hospitalization and re-hospitalization for any cause.

Long-acting injectable medications were associated with less risk of re-hospitalization compared to the identical medications delivered orally.

Lähteenvuo and colleagues concluded, “Lithium…should remain as the first line of treatment for bipolar disorder, after decades of underprescription.” They suggest that long-acting injectable medications may be a good alternative to prevent relapse in patients for whom lithium is unsuitable.

Editor’s Note: In addition to lithium’s ability to prevent depressions and manias, it also increases the volume of the hippocampus and protects against a diagnosis of dementia in old age. Lithium decreases the risk for suicide and also increases the length of telomeres, bits on the ends of DNA strands that protect them as they replicate, which are important to the maintenance of both physical and psychiatric health. When lithium is used cautiously to maintain doses below a given patient’s side effects threshold, it is very well tolerated by most individuals.

The New News About Lithium

November 7, 2017 · Posted in Current Treatments, Peer-Reviewed Published Data · Comment 

lithium

Robert M. Post, Editor-in-Chief of the BNN, recently published an open access article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, “The New News About Lithium: An Underutilized Treatment in the United States.” Here we summarize the main points of the publication, including: the multiple benefits of lithium, its relative safety, predictors of lithium responsiveness, and principles for treatment.

Benefits of lithium

Lithium prevents both depressions and manias in bipolar disorder, and also prevents depressions in unipolar disorder and can augment antidepressant effects acutely. In addition to these mood benefits, lithium has anti-suicide effects. Lithium also enhances the efficacy of atypical antipsychotics and other mood stabilizers when used in combination with them.

Lithium is good for the brain. It has been shown to reduce the incidence of dementia. Lithium increases the volume of the hippocampus and cortex, and can increase the production of new neurons and glia. It also protects neurons. In animals, lithium has been shown to reduce lesion size in neurological syndromes that are models for human disorders such as AIDS-related neurotoxicity, ischemic/hemorrhagic stroke, traumatic brain/spinal cord injury, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), fragile X syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, retinal degeneration, multiple sclerosis, alcohol-induced degeneration, Down’s syndrome, spinocerebellar ataxia-1, and irradiation.

Lithium’s benefits include more general ones as well. It can increase the length of telomeres, bits of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that protect them during replication. Short telomeres have been linked to various illnesses and the aging process. Lithium also decreases the incidence of several medical illnesses and enhances survival.

Side Effects Are Often Benign, Treatable

Lithium side effects are more benign than many people think. Even low levels of lithium may be therapeutically sufficient. Read more

Facial Emotion Recognition Deficient in Bipolar Disorder

February 1, 2016 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data · Comment 

facial expressionsemotions

In the past decade, several studies have indicated that people with bipolar disorder have less ability to recognize the emotions expressed on people’s faces than do healthy controls. A 2013 meta-analysis by Cecilia Samamé and colleagues concluded that facial emotion recognition was deficient in people with bipolar disorder regardless of their current state. A 2011 quantitative review article by Christian G. Kohler and colleagues revealed that this difficulty distinguishing emotions is general, rather than specific to any one emotion.

A 2015 study by Esther Vierck and colleagues in the journal Psychiatry Research showed that both euthymic patients with bipolar disorder and their first-degree relatives without bipolar disorder performed worse on tests of emotion recognition than did normal controls. The findings in healthy relatives suggest that the deficit may be a familial risk factor for the development of bipolar disorder.

These deficits in facial emotion recognition have also been seen in 4 out of 5 studies of children with early-onset bipolar disorder, including those who are euthymic. 2008 studies by Melissa A. Brotman and colleagues showed that even children just at high risk for bipolar disorder due to a family history of the disorder had deficient emotion recognition.

This literature indicates that deficiencies in facial emotion recognition consistently accompany bipolar disorder and may also be a sign that a child or teenager is at risk for bipolar disorder. Since these deficits can create social and interpersonal difficulties, it may be useful to teach better emotion recognition skills to people with bipolar disorder or those at high risk for the illness.

New Atypical Antipsychotic Drug Brexpiprazole Improves Depression When Added to Antidepressants

January 25, 2016 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Potential Treatments · Comment 

brexpiprazoleTwo studies published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2015 suggest that the new atypical antipsychotic brexpiprazole (trade name Rexulti) safely improves depression when added to antidepressant treatment. The 6-week studies, both by Michael E. Thase and colleagues, compared brexpiprazole to placebo in people who had not responded adequately to one to three antidepressants and were taking at least one antidepressant at the time of the study.

The studies examined the effectiveness of different doses of brexpiprazole. Doses of 2mg/day and 3mg/day were more effective than placebo, while a dose of 1mg/day was not. The drug was well-tolerated by patients at each of these doses, although those taking the 3mg/day reported more side effects than those taking 2mg/day. The side effects included restless legs, weight gain, and headaches.

Like the atypical antipsychotic aripiprazole (Abilify), brexpiprazole partially blocks and partially stimulates dopamine receptors. While aripiprazole allows 61% activity at dopamine D2 receptors, brexpiprazole allows 43%. It is not yet clear how the new drug’s effects may differ from those of aripiprazole.

Another relatively new atypical antipsychotic drug, cariprazine (Vraylar) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for schizophrenia and mania, but not yet for bipolar depression or as an add-on treatment to antidepressants in unipolar depression, although there are placebo-controlled trials showing that cariprazine can also treat these conditions.

Like aripiprazole and brexpiprazole, cariprazine also partially blocks and partially stimulates dopamine receptors. Unlike them, cariprazine is more potent at dopamine D3 receptors, which are linked to mood, motivation, and drug reward, than at D2 receptors, which are linked to motor control. It is not yet clear how these differences may change treatment outcomes or side effects.

Lamotrigine potentiates the antidepressant effects of quetiapine in bipolar depression

January 8, 2016 · Posted in Current Treatments, Peer-Reviewed Published Data · Comment 

quetiapine and lamotrigine

At the 2015 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher John Geddes presented an important study showing in inadequate responders to quetiapine that compared to adding placebo, adding the anticonvulsant lamotrigine to their treatment improved depression rapidly and lastingly. Some psychiatrists have been prescribing this combination to patients for some time, but this is the first formal clinical trial documenting its efficacy. The article was published online in December in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Researcher Guy Goodwin described details of the study, called CEQUEL, at the meeting. It included 202 patients with bipolar I or II disorder who required treatment for a depressive episode. Participants who did not respond completely to 14 days of treatment with quetiapine were prescribed either an additional dose of lamotrigine or a placebo. Lamotrigine was very slowly titrated up to maximum doses of 200mg/day. Its antidepressant effects were striking. They began early and persisted for 50 weeks. (The published article covers only the first 12 weeks.) Response rates for the combination of quetiapine and lamotrigine were 52%, compared to 22% for quetiapine alone. Remission rates were 35% for quetiapine and lamotrigine and 12% for quetiapine alone.

Folic acid interaction

Another part of the study assessed whether folic acid supplements could improve outcomes, but in fact they did the opposite, reversing the benefits of adding lamotrigine. Geddes did not have an explanation for why this might be the case. Lamotrigine can inhibit folate metabolism, and it had been thought that adding folate would be useful. Until further data are gathered on folate augmentation in patients taking the combination of lamotrigine and quetiapine, folate should be used cautiously if at all in these patients.

Possible combination with lithium

In Goodwin’s talk, he also noted lithium’s potential to lower suicide rates, premature mortality, and cognitive impairment, and to increase hippocampal and cortical volume.

Since lamotrigine was shown to potentiate the antidepressant effects of lithium in a study by Van der Loos and colleagues, and quetiapine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of depression as an adjunct to lithium (or valproate), there might be theoretical acute and long-term benefits to combining the three: lithium, quetiapine, and lamotrigine.

Loss of Appetite or Weight in Depressed Parents Predicts Depression in Children

October 28, 2013 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 

Depressed woman uninterested in foodDepression in a parent is one of the factors that best predicts whether a young person will develop depression. Since depression symptoms can vary greatly from person to person and some symptoms are known to be more heritable than others, new research is investigating whether a parent’s profile of symptoms affects their child’s likelihood of developing the illness. A 2013 study by Mars et al. in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that loss of appetite or weight in a parent with depression is the symptom that most strongly predicts new onset of depression and depressive symptoms in their offspring.

The study observed 337 parent-child pairs. The parents (mostly mothers), who had a history of recurrent unipolar depression, ranged in age from 25–55 years, and their children ranged from 9–17 years. The study lasted four years, during which the families participated in three assessments. Parents’ symptoms were recorded and children were also assessed for symptoms or new development of depression. Thirty percent of the offspring whose parents reported weight loss or low appetite were found to have new onset of depression at followup, compared to nine percent of the offspring whose parents did not have these symptoms.

There are nine symptoms used to diagnose depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders: low mood, loss of interest (anhedonia), loss of energy, change in appetite or weight, change in sleep, low self-esteem or guilt, suicidality, psychomotor slowing (retardation), and loss of concentration or indecisiveness. Of these, parental loss of appetite or weight was the only symptom that predicted depression in a child. Interestingly, the severity of parental depression or the presence of other health problems in the parent did not account for the emergence of illness in the children.

Childhood Illness Onset Produces Worse Outcomes

June 28, 2013 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 

troubled kid

There is more evidence that childhood onset of bipolar illness means a more difficult course of illness. In a study published in World Psychiatry in 2012, Baldessarini et al. pooled data from 1,665 adult patients with bipolar I disorder at seven international sites and compared their family history of bipolar disorder, outcomes, and age of onset. Among these patients, 5% had onset in childhood (age <12 years), 28% during adolescence (12-18), and 53% during a peak period from age 15-25.

Patients who were younger at onset had more episodes per year, more co-morbidities, and a greater likelihood of a family history of the illness. Patients who were older at onset were more likely to have positive functional outcomes in adulthood, like being employed, living independently, and having a family.

NAC Improves Irritability and Repetitive Behaviors in Children with Autism

irritable kidThe antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which can be found in health food stores, seems to be effective for irritability and repetitive behaviors in children with autism. In a small controlled study that was published by Hardan et al. in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2012, 33 mostly male children with autism (aged 3-12 years) received either placebo or NAC at doses of 900mg daily for 4 weeks, followed by 900mg twice daily for 4 weeks, then 900mg three times a day for 4 weeks. Beginning in week 4, the children receiving NAC showed significantly improved irritability scores, and a trend for improvement in repetitive behaviors.

Social responsiveness did not improve significantly, but the children receiving NAC did show some improvement in some areas of social behavior, such as social cognition and autism mannerisms.

There were few side effects associated with NAC. The most significant were gastrointestinal side effects, but these were mild, especially when compared with the side effects associated with FDA-approved treatments for autism, such as the atypical antipsychotics risperidone and aripiprazole.

The authors of the study plan to expand their research in a study of more than 100 children with autism.

Editor’s Note: It should we previously summarized this study in the BNN based on research presented by Fung et al. at a meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry two years ago. The study has now been published.

Cardiovascular Fitness At Age 18 Predicts Later Risk Of Depression In Men

April 22, 2013 · Posted in Peer-Reviewed Published Data, Risk Factors · Comment 

Man Doing PushupsResearch has connected cardiovascular fitness with depression risk and treatment. A Swedish study published last year in the British Journal of Psychiatry examined records of men conscripted into the military at age 18 and compared their cardiovascular fitness at the time with hospital records from later decades. Low cardiovascular fitness at the time of conscription was associated with increased risk for serious depression.

Editor’s Note: This study provides more evidence that exercise, which increases cardiovascular fitness and decreases many of the elements of the metabolic syndrome, is good for cardiovascular and neuropsychological health, including mood stability. It is noteworthy that exercise also increases both brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF (important for neural development and long-term memory) and neurogenesis (in animals), effects shared by almost all treatments with antidepressant properties. Making exercise a routine part of a regimen aimed at medical and psychiatric health is a great idea.

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