Study Ties Antipsychotic Drugs to Decrease in Brain Volume

First Posted: Jul 21, 2014 02:43 AM EDT

A new study has confirmed a strong association between antipsychotic drug-use and decrease in brain volume in schizophrenia patients.

The use of antipsychotic medication has been around for a long time. It is mainly used to treat conditions like schizophrenia or mania that is caused by bipolar disorder and other major depressions. They are an effective treatment for mental illness. But, health experts warn about the use of these drugs as they have the potential to cause adverse effects on the brain.

The new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge confirm this, stating antipsychotic drugs cause a slight but measurable decrease in brain volume in patients with schizophrenia - a mental disorder that appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. It affects 2.2 million Americans each year. This disorder causes delusions, hallucinations and disorganized speech.

Loss is brain volume is a natural part of aging and this process is called atrophy. This begins in the thirties and persists till old age. Till date not much was known on why patients with schizophrenia lose brain volume faster than the healthy individuals.

The study conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oulu found out the rate of decrease in brain volume in both healthy individuals and those with schizophrenia. They have also found the region in the brains of schizophrenia patients where there is more atrophy and examined the association between atrophy and antipsychotic medication.

They compared the brain scans of 33 patients, who were diagnosed with schizophrenia with 71 control subjects over a period of 9 years. The participants' age varied from 34-43 years. They noticed that schizophrenia patients lost 0.7 percent of brain volume each year, whereas the control patients lost brain volume at the rate 0.5 percent per year.

The rate of decrease in volume was more when the dose of medication was higher. But, it was still not clear whether medication was causing this greater loss of tissue. The new study states that older as well as newer antipsychotic medications offer protection against these decreases.

Professor Juha Veijola from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oulu, Finland, said: "We all lose some brain tissue as we get older, but people with schizophrenia lose it at a faster rate. We've shown that this loss seems to be linked to the antipsychotic medication people are taking. Research like this where patients are studied for many years can help to develop guidelines about when clinicians can reduce the dosage of antipsychotic medication in the long term treatment of people with schizophrenia."

The finding was documented in the journal PLOS One.

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