Treating Older Dementia Patients with Antipsychotic Drugs Ups Heart Attack Risk

Use of antipsychotic drugs like Abilify, Zyprexa, Risperdal, and Seroquel among elderly patients with treatable forms of dementia increases their risk of suffering a heart attack.

According to HealthDay News report on a new study from researchers at Universite Bordeaux Segalen, France, elderly patients prescribed these drugs now have additional reason to be wary of these drugs often prescribed to treat symptoms like agitation, hallucinations, and aggression common among people suffering from dementia. Previous studies have linked use of these drugs among people already prescribed drugs for dementia with an increased risk of stroke and sudden death.

Using a study of more than 11,000 people in Quebec, Canada, above the age of 66 and being treated with both an antipsychotic drug like Abilify, Zyprexa, Risperdal, or Zyprexa and a cholinesterase inhibitor drug to treat dementia symptoms, the risk of heart attack was statistically higher than people just taking the cholinesterase inhibitor.

The report details the finding, indicating the risk of heart attack was 2.19-times higher in the first month of treatment on the antipsychotic drug. The heart attack risk decreased slightly over time but always remains above the risk presented by taking the dementia drugs, alone. The risk was 1.62-times higher after two months, 1.36-times greater at the three-month mark, and still 1.15-times more after a year on both drugs.

Researchers in France believe studies have ignored this specific class of patients being prescribed this combination of drugs, making this the first definitive study on this risk. A direct link or cause of this increased risk was identified by the research group. The study appears online at the site for the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. The research group urged others to begin examining why antipsychotic drugs seem to increase the risk of heart attack among this specific group of patients.

Patients who are prescribed this potentially dangerous mix of drugs should be “closely monitored” during the first few weeks of treatment for any signs of an impending heart attack or other side effect like stroke or death.

Rather than using antipsychotic drugs for treating these symptoms among elderly, “community-dwelling” patients, physicians should examine the effectiveness of behavioral or environmental treatments for reducing the symptoms targeted by the drugs causing the additional concerns, according to an editorial from researchers at Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, that accompanied the published study in the journal.

Antipsychotic drugs already have a checkered past, with numerous studies linking them to myriad dangerous and life-threatening side effects, including stroke and death. Companies marketing these drugs have also been accused of bias in choosing which previous studies have been made available to the public, often suppressing data which shows their risk of side effects among any patients, not specifically those targeted by this study.

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