Monday, May 19, 2008

Speak up! There may be options that don't cause weight gain

Schizophrenia is a challenging problem to manage. I'm not a huge fan of medication, but I AM a huge fan of keeping people safe as well as healthy. And in the case of schizophrenia, that often means medication MUST be part of the treatment plan.

I wish, though, that in the process of keeping our schizophrenic loved ones safe with regards to reducing self-harming and otherwise destructive behaviors, we could keep them metabolically safe. In other words, I wish we could also create an antipsychotic that didn't significantly increase weight gain, as well as risk of diabetes and heart disease. The most we seem to be able to do, right now, it seems, is be aware of the relative health risks that medications in this category pose.

One medication that seems to be working well, is ziprasidone (Geodon). One hundred eighty five individuals with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder who were initially on either risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), or conventional antipsychotic agents, were switched to ziprasidone, and maintained on this medication for one year. Cholesterol, triglyceride, weight, and behavioral measures were recorded at regular follow-up intervals during this time.

In the individuals who had been switched from risperidone or olanzapine, there were overall significant improvements in weight, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. These changes did not seem to show up, however, in those who were switched over from other antipsychotics.

The take home message here is that there seems to be a spectrum along which these medications lie, from most weight-neutral to least weight-neutral. It's important to be aware that if you or someone you know is on medications and you notice changes in metabolic health, that you ask about alternatives.

I know that there are many other reasons why psychiatrists make medication choices in their treatment planning. I have several clients in my case load who simply are not well managed unless they are using the weight-promoting antipsychotics. Their treatment goals are different than what I am referring to here.

If there is a weight/cholesterol/diabetes issue whose onset seems to correlate with the use of an antipsychotic medication, and there are medication options that have not been considered, it is surely worth inquiring about the possibility of using them. Often times, the burden of this communication falls on the loved one, as the person with the problem is not in a cognitive place to be able to do this for himself/herself.

Just know, often times there are options, and it is your right to ask for a discussion about what those options are.

Weiden PJ, Newcomer JW, Loebel AD, Yang R, Lebovitz HE. Long-Term Changes in Weight and Plasma Lipids during Maintenance Treatment with Ziprasidone. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Apr;33(5):985-94

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