Schizophrenic patients with the mildest symptoms benefit less from antipsychotic medications than those with more acute schizophrenia, yet they still experience the adverse effects from the drugs, according to new research published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The research suggests that clinicians treating patients with mild forms of schizophrenia need to consider the trade-offs between benefits and risks, and “confirm the patient’s diagnosis and start their treatment judiciously, probably with low doses of antipsychotics with less side effects,” said lead reseracher Toshi A. Furukawa, MD, PhD, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine/School of Public Health in Japan.
The study involved commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs including Risperdal, known generically as risperidone. The drug is approved to treat adults and children with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability with autism. It is often prescribed off-label for other behavioral conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) , attention deficit disorder (ADD) as well a anxiety and depression.
Risperdal has been linked to side effects including weight gain from increased appetite, and type 2 diabetes. It has also been associated with more serious side effects including a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, and a life-threatening neurological disorder called neuroleptic malignant syndrome.
Studies have also linked Risperdal use in boys and young men to gynecomastia, a condition in which boys grow breast tissue, which can become painful and in some cases lactate. Gynecomastia can leave lasting emotional scars, but it can also be physically dangerous, putting boys at greater risk of breast cancer and reproductive damage. Treatment often involves surgeries such as liposuction and mastectomy.
Several lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals alleging the companies knew of the gynecomastia risks with Risperdal but failed to warn the public.
Because of the severity of some Risperdal side effects, physicians are advised to carefully weigh the risk against possible benefits. Patients and caregivers should discuss these risks with their doctor.