20-Year Study Finds Clozapine and Long-Acting Injectable Antipsychotics Most Effective at Preventing Re-Hospitalizations for Schizophrenia

September 21, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

emergency room

Few studies have evaluated the comparative long-term effectiveness of antipsychotics in preventing relapse, but a 2017 study from Finland published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin by Heidi Taipale and colleagues did just that, and found that clozapine and long-acting injectable antipsychotic drugs were most effective at preventing psychiatric re-hospitalizations.

The Finnish health care registry was used to prospectively collect data on the treatment of every person who received inpatient care for schizophrenia between 1972 and 2014. The patients totaled 62,250 including 8,719 in their first episode of schizophrenia. Follow-up to evaluate antipsychotic use began at 1996 for those with ongoing treatment, and upon first discharge from the hospital for those patients in their first episode. The follow-up time ranged from 6.9 to 20 years with an average of 14.1 years. During the follow-up period, 59% of patients were readmitted to psychiatric inpatient care.

Among the drugs with the lowest rates of relapse, olanzapine long-acting injection, clozapine, and paliperidone long-acting injection were associated with the least risk of psychiatric re-hospitalization. Among patients in a first episode, taking flupentixol long-acting injection, olanzapine long-acting injection, or perphenazine long-acting injection had the lowest risk of psychiatric re-hospitalization. Clozapine and the long-acting injections also had the least risk of hospitalization for any cause.

Single Dose of Ketamine Reduces Suicidal Ideation

September 18, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Nurse Giving Patient Injection

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Samuel T. Wilkinson and colleagues in the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed individual patient data from 10 studies in which a single intravenous dose of ketamine was given to patients with suicidal ideation. The review included data from a total of 167 participants.

Wilkinson and colleagues found that ketamine reduced suicidal ideation within 24 hours, and these effects lasted for up to seven days. Mood also improved, but the reduction in suicidal ideation was independent of the degree of improvement in depression.

Among the participants, 54.9% were free of suicidal ideation at 24 hours after the infusion, 60.0% were free of suicidal ideation one week after the infusion, and 61.1% were free of suicidal ideation at two weeks.

Editor’s Note: The authors report that there is much to clarify about ketamine treatment before it can be used clinically to treat patients at risk for suicide. However, ketamine’s powerful and rapid effects offer an interesting alternative to other slow-acting treatment options, and could be an ideal acute treatment for patients arriving in an emergency room because of high suicide risk. A ketamine injection could be especially useful  for those who are not admitted to the hospital, as it could produce anti-suicidal effects that could help carry a patient over until their next psychiatric appointment.

Mixed Findings for Intranasal Ketamine

September 13, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

intranasal ketamine

The drug ketamine can rapidly and temporarily improve depression when delivered intravenously. Researchers have been working on extending ketamine’s effects and finding easier ways of delivering the medication. One new delivery method under investigation is nasal spray, which could be used repeatedly to extend ketamine’s effects.

Unfortunately, researcher Colleen Loo reported in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2018 that a pilot study of self-administered intranasal ketamine for severe depression was suspended when 5 of the 10 participants had side effects that included high blood pressure, psychotic symptoms, and motor incoordination that made them unable to keep using the spray. Early in the four-week study, dosage was adjusted to leave more time between sprays, but this was not enough to prevent the problems with side effects.

Loo said that the nasal spray version of ketamine has complications including variations in absorption among different people and on different days, depending on factors like mucus in the nose and exact application techniques. Its rapid absorption into the bloodstream could lead to high peak levels in certain people.

Loo and colleagues had previously found that elderly patients receiving injections of ketamine under the skin required highly individualized dosing to avoid side effects. This may also be the case with nasal spray.

While Loo’s study found intranasal ketamine infeasible for the moment, Janssen Research and Development, a pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson, reported positive results in phase 3 clinical trials of intranasal esketamine (a component of ketamine) at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in May. Researchers for Janssen reported that intranasal esketamine was highly effective for depression and well-tolerated both in acute treatment and over a year-long period. Janssen is now pursing approval for the drug from the US Food and Drug Administration.

 

Repeated Ketamine Reduces PTSD and Depression in the Short Term

September 11, 2018 · Posted in Comorbidities, Potential Treatments · Comment 

iv ketamine

In a 2018 open study by C. Sophia Albott and colleagues in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a simultaneous diagnosis of major depression were treated with six infusions of intravenous ketamine over a 12-day period (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for two weeks).

Ketamine produced large improvements in both conditions. The remission rate was 80.0% for PTSD and 93.3% for depression. The median time to first relapse after the treatment was 41 days for PTSD and 20 days for depression.

One side effect of ketamine was that dissociative symptoms increased temporarily with repeated infusions. PTSD symptoms did not worsen among those participants taking ketamine.

The study was intended to evaluate the efficacy, safety, and durability of repeated ketamine infusions. Ketamine has been used in emergency rooms to rapidly treat depression and suicidality, but the effects of a single infusion fade within days.  Albott and colleagues reported that this treatment scenario with multiple ketamine infusions produced rapid results that lasted longer than single ketamine infusions.

Editor’s Note: While this study found that repeated ketamine infusions were safe, it is possible that long-term use may lead to addiction. Researcher Nolan R. Williams and colleagues reported in a 2018 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry that ketamine works via activation of the opiate receptor.  The drug naloxone, which rapidly reverses opiate overdose, completely blocked ketamine’s antidepressant effects.

 

Early Intervention Improves Outcomes in Early-Stage Schizophrenia

 

doctor with teen boy

A recent meta-analysis of 10 studies found that early intervention after a first episode of psychosis or in the early stages of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder led to better patient outcomes than treatment as usual.
The meta-analysis by researcher Christoph U. Correll and colleagues appeared in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2018. The 10 studies that were included had randomized a total of 2,176 patients to receive either treatment as usual or early intervention services, which typically include efforts at early detection of symptoms, early treatment with low doses of antipsychotic medication, interventions to prevent relapse, and strategies to help patients return to normal work and social activities.

Those patients who received early intervention services were less likely to discontinue treatment, were less likely to have a psychiatric hospitalization, were more involved in school or work, and had less severe symptoms, including both positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

The authors called for better funding and implementation of early intervention services in early psychosis or the beginning stages of schizophrenia.

Editor’s Note: This finding with regard to schizophrenia spectrum disorders emphasizes the enormous disparity in allocation of research resources for the study of early psychosis versus early bipolar disorder, where almost no studies of this kind have been done.

The mean age of the patients in this psychosis meta-analysis was 27.5 years. Symptoms of bipolar disorder can often begin earlier, in childhood, and early onset of bipolar disorder predicts poor long-term outcomes into adulthood and is associated with a high risk of substance abuse and suicide. This editor (Robert M. Post) and many colleagues have witnessed two decades of scientific literature on early-onset bipolar disorder. We know that early intervention is necessary, but more treatment studies are needed at the early stages of the illness, and calls for funding treatment-focused research have gone unheeded.

More advocacy is needed among families affected by bipolar disorder and advocacy groups interested in better treatment of bipolar disorder. We must try to change the abysmal status quo and campaign publicly, privately, and politically for more funds and public health attention to be directed toward early intervention in bipolar disorder.

Hearing Aids May Lessen Cognitive Decline, Memory Loss

July 11, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

hearing aid

A 2018 article by researcher Asri Maharani and colleagues in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reports that using a hearing aid was associated with better scores on a test of episodic memory, and that declines in episodic memory slowed after participants began using hearing aids.

The study included 2,040 adults aged 50 years and up. Maharani and colleagues used data from the Health and Retirement Study, which measured participants’ cognitive functioning every two years for 18 years. Participants were asked to recall 10 words both immediately and after some delay.

The authors suggested that improving access to hearing aids earlier in the course of hearing impairment might help to stem the rise of dementia.

Meta-Analysis Finds Antidepressants More Effective Than Placebo

July 3, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

antidepressants

In a 2018 article in the journal The Lancet, researchers led by Andrea Cipriani compared the efficacy of 21 different antidepressants and established that antidepressants are more effective than placebo at reducing unipolar depression. To date, this is the largest meta-analysis of double-blind, randomized controlled studies of antidepressant efficacy, including 522 trials and a total of 116,477 participants. All 21 of the antidepressants were found to be more effective than placebo.

Looking at head to head studies, Cipriani and colleagues found that the most effective antidepressants were agomelatine, amitriptyline, escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, venlafaxine, and vortioxetine. The least effective antidepressants were fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, reboxetine, and trazodone.

In terms of tolerability, agomelatine, citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline, and vortioxetine were most tolerable to patients, while amitriptyline, clomipramine, duloxetine, fluvoxamine, reboxetine, trazodone, and venlafaxine caused the most study dropouts due to side effects. Only agomelatine and fluoxetine had better dropout rates than placebo.

Interestingly, agomelatine, the medication found to be most effective and most tolerable, is unavailable in the US. Pharmaceutical company Novartis, which owns the rights to the drug, was disappointed by some lackluster studies of the drug and never applied for Food and Drug Administration approval to sell it in the US. The studies found potential problems regarding drug interactions related to the metabolic enzyme CYP1A2 and a risk of liver damage with longer-term use.

Editor’s Note: This meta-analysis should end any remaining controversy about the efficacy of antidepressants in the acute treatment of unipolar depression.

This study did not address maintenance treatment for the prevention of depressive episodes. Researcher John R. Geddes and colleagues have found robust, statistically significant data that continuation treatment with antidepressants can prevent depressive relapse, suggesting that if patients continue taking effective antidepressants, rather than switching to placebo, the antidepressants can reduce depressive occurrences by about 70%.

It is now recommended in most guidelines that patients with two or three prior episodes of depression consider staying on antidepressants indefinitely over their lifetime in order to prevent recurrence. Antidepressants increase the creation of new neurons and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which protects neurons and is important for learning and memory. Antidepressants can also prevent loss of hippocampal volume.

Longer Periods of Untreated Depression Linked to More Brain Inflammation

June 27, 2018 · Posted in Course of Illness, Risk Factors · Comment 

depressed womanA 2018 study by researchers Elaine Setiawan, Sophia Attwells and colleagues reports that inflammation seems to increase with duration of untreated unipolar depression. This implies that depression may be a progressive illness, and later stage depression may require different treatments than early stage depression, such as those that directly target inflammation.

The study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry used positron emission tomography (PET scan) to examines levels of translocator protein in the brain. Higher levels of translocator protein indicate activation of microglia, the brain’s immune cells, which can respond to trauma or injury.

The study included 80 participants between the ages of 18 and 75. Ten had a history of more than 10 years of depression, ten had experienced fewer than 10 years of depression, and 30 comprised a healthy comparison group.

The best predictors of high levels of translocator protein were duration of untreated major depressive disorder, total illness duration, and duration of antidepressant exposure. These three factors explained about half of the variation in translocator protein levels. Those participants whose depression went untreated for 10 years or longer had inflammation levels 29–33% higher than those whose depression was untreated for 9 years or less.

Participants who had received antidepressant treatment appeared to avoid an average yearly increase in the extent of their microglial activation.

The study took place at Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Editor’s Note: Since inflammation is a predictor of poorer response to antidepressants, these data add a further neurochemical rationale to the already strong clinical rationale for earlier and more sustained antidepressant treatment and prevention. Virtually all treatment guidelines suggest that after two or three prior unipolar depressions, patients should receive long-term (lifelong) antidepressant treatment.

There is now a large body of data, including a 2012 article by this editor Robert M. Post and colleagues in the Journal of Psychiatric Research that too many episodes can hurt the brain, and the current study adds to this perspective. Avoiding preventive treatment for too long may actually foster the development of more episodes and more treatment resistance. A good mantra is “prevent episodes, protect the brain.”

Consensus is now also building that comprehensive long-term treatment is indicated after a first manic episode. A 2013 article by Lars Kessing and colleagues in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggested that high quality initial treatment can improve the long-term course of illness. Moreover, a 2016 article by Jan-Marie Kozicky and colleagues and a 2017 article by Christine Demmo and colleagues, both in the journal Bipolar Disorders, suggest that after a first mania, cognition recovers over the next year only if no further episodes occur in that time.

Antioxidant N-Acetylcysteine Improves Working Memory in Patients with Psychosis

June 20, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

NACIn a 2017 article in the journal Psychological Medicine, researcher Marta Rapado-Castro and colleagues reported that among 58 patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and symptoms of psychosis, those who took two grams per day of the antioxidant n-acetylcysteine (NAC) showed improvements in working memory after six months compared to those who took placebo over the same study period.

Antipsychotic medications can typically reduce psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations, but cognitive symptoms such as problems with learning, memory, or information processing may remain. NAC, which is sold over-the-counter as a nutritional supplement, seemed to improve these symptoms.

The researchers suggest that larger studies of NAC are needed, particularly to determine whether giving NAC to patients during their first episode of psychosis could prevent cognitive decline from occurring at all during the course of their illness.

NAC has been found to have a range of benefits, including reducing substance abuse and interfering with habit-based behaviors such as compulsive hair-pulling, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and gambling.
Researcher Michael Berk, a co-author of the study, reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2008 that NAC could also improve depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder and negative symptoms in schizophrenia.

Editor’s Note: Since cognitive deficits are common in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, using NAC in addition to antipsychotic medications could be a useful tool to address these types of symptoms.

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.

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