Do antipsychotic drugs cause weight gain in children?

Originally published in Insidermedicine

Second-generation antipsychotic drugs can produce unwanted weight gain and other metabolic effects among children and youths after only a few weeks, according to research published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Here is some information about second-generation antipsychotic drugs:

• Antipsychotics are drugs used to treat severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

• The second-generation antipsychotics differ from the earlier, first-generation drugs in that they produce fewer severe side effects, such as effects on movement

• Despite their improved side-effect profile, second-generation antipsychotic drugs can have troubling, unwanted effects

Researches from the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Glen Oaks studied changes in body composition and blood lipid levels among over 300 children and youths aged 4 to 19 embarking on a 12-week treatment period with one of four second-generation antipsychotic drugs. Among these participants, 272 had at least one health assessment after starting therapy, and 205 completed the study. Fifteen patients who did not adhere to their antipsychotic regimen served as a comparison group.

After an average of about 11 weeks of treatment, the participants had gained an average of 4.4 to 8.5 kg, depending on the drug they were taking. They also saw increases in their overall body fat composition and their waist circumference, both of which are recognized risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Two of the drugs – olanzapine and quetiapine – were associated with increases in total cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and the ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol. The drug risperidone was associated with increases in triglyceride levels.

Today’s research demonstrates that the benefits of second-generation antipsychotic drugs, which can be considerable, must be weighed against the potential negative impact on cardiovascular health. Young people taking these drugs should undergo regular cardiovascular health assessments. Never stop taking an antipsychotic drug without consulting your health care professional.