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Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs Double Heart Risks

Jan 15, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Atypical antipsychotic drugs, including Seroquel, Zyprexa and Risperdal, double the risk of heart failure and death, according to a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.  According to, the new study raises questions about claims that atypical antipsychotics are safer than older generation antipsychotics.

Atypical antipsychotics, among the best-selling in the world, are used to treat schizophrenia and other mental problems.  But according to Reuters, they are also widely used off-label to treat dementia and childhood hyperactivity.  Many experts and patient advocates have called for a halt to such practices, and this study will likely add ammunition to their arguments.

For this latest  study, researchers at the University of Vanderbilt studied nearly 277,000 people in Tennessee. About 46,000 were taking atypical antipsychotic drugs and 44,000 were taking typical antipsychotic drugs. About 187,000 weren't taking any of the drugs. Patients ranged in age from 30 to 74 years; the average age was about 46.

The study found that those  taking the highest dose of the new antipsychotics had the greatest risk of heart failure and death, Reuters said.  The danger faded once they stopped taking the drugs. The risk spanned all age groups, including younger people.  

The drugs studied in this group included clozapine, made generically, Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal,  Zyprexa, and Seroquel, made by AstraZeneca, Reuters said. The "typical" drugs used for comparison were haloperidol and thioridazine, both generics.

According to The Wall Street Journal, an editorial accompanying the study said the use of such drugs should be "reduced sharply" among children and elderly patients

Last week, we reported that another study conducted by scientists at the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at King’s College London found that use of antipsychotic drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease patients doubled their chance of dying.  While they are not approved for that use, antipsychotics are used in dementia patients, including those with Alzheimer's to control dementia.  Researchers conducting the British study concluded that the risks of the drugs in these patients outweighed any potential benefits.  

According to Reuters, in June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said older, conventional antipsychotic medications should carry a warning on the packaging about the risk of death. The FDA issued a similar warning in 2005 for newer antipsychotics.

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