A 7-year study in 103 remitted FEP patients found that recovery rates were significantly better in those receiving early dose reduction than in those receiving maintenance treatment (40.4% vs 17.6%).1 Functional remission rates were also higher in the dose reduction group (46.2% vs 19.6%), but were not related to symptomatic remission. This is great news for psychiatrists because it suggests dosages can be safely reduced, thereby avoiding unnecessary dopamine blockade and adverse effects on metabolic health and brain integrity. However, the study also found that relapse rates in patients receiving dose reduction were only reduced in the long-term and that rates actually increased in the first 3 years.
Recovery rates were significantly better in those receiving early dose reduction than in those receiving maintenance treatment (40.4% vs 17.6%)
Why is this important? The likelihood of recovery is closely related to the number of relapses in FEP patients.1 This suggests that relapse should be prevented at any cost. So how can psychiatrists achieve the 7-year benefits of dose reduction, whilst avoiding early relapses?
Previous studies suggest that relapse risk and functional outcome might be predicted by baseline negative symptoms.1-4 If confirmed, relapse prevention strategies might have less impact on outcome than generally assumed.
To investigate this hypothesis, Dr Wunderlink et al from the University of Groningen carried out a post-hoc analysis of 7-year data to investigate whether differences in relapse rates were purely due to differences between maintenance treatment and dose reduction or whether certain patients are more likely to relapse than others. They found that the number and severity of negative symptoms at baseline significantly predicted relapse rates in all patients and also in patients treated with maintenance treatment. However, negative symptoms at baseline were not predictive of relapse in patients receiving dose reduction.
Further studies are required to investigate whether patients with high levels of negative symptoms at baseline should be treated differently, and whether results in people with maintenance treatment were because maintenance treatment dosages were too low to prevent relapse. In the meantime, maintenance strategies should be tailored to the individual patient in order to reduce the medication dosage without a resultant relapse.
Maintenance strategies should be tailored to the individual patient in order to reduce the medication dosage without a resultant relapse
A study conducted in 178 patients with fully remitted FEP following antipsychotic treatment found that relapse rates after 1 year were significantly higher among patients that discontinued antipsychotics than in those receiving maintenance treatment (79% vs. 41%).2 To investigate the effects of treatment discontinuation on long-term outcomes, patients completing the 1-year study were assigned naturalistic care and were regularly assessed over a 10-year period.5 Overall, significantly more patients in the discontinuation group had poor clinical outcome compared to patients receiving maintenance treatment (39% vs 21%). Effects were largely due to relapse rates. Results suggest that medication continuation for at least the first 3 years after treatment initiation effectively prevents relapse and decreases the risk of poor long-term outcome.
Most clinical guidelines recommend continuing antipsychotic treatment for 1 to 2 years after FEP but provide no recommendations for long-term treatment.6 What do clinicians think?
Medication continuation for at least the first 3 years after treatment initiation effectively prevents relapse and decreases the risk of poor long-term outcome
According to a survey conducted in Singapore (N = 82), about 50% of clinicians feel treatment could be discontinued in 21-40% of asymptomatic patients and that patients should be monitored for 12-24 months after discontinuation. Overall, 50% felt that medications should be continued for 1-2 years after symptom remission and 28% felt that the period could be reduced to 6-12 months. Most clinicians agreed that the most important criteria for decision making are whether patients had good social support and whether they are able to cope with stressful situations.