The use of antipsychotic medications has become more common in children and adolescents over the past 2 decades (Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012 Dec;69:1247-56). Whether or not one agrees that the trend in prescribing these agents is problematic (and I do), often the prescription and monitoring of antipsychotic medication falls to the primary care clinician who may have concerns about how to manage them. Here, we present a case to illustrate just such an issue.
James is a 17-year-old young man with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder made earlier this year after an inpatient day at a local hospital. James had a history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) growing up, but also had a strong family history of bipolar disorder. He began having increasing difficulty during the summer after his junior year, and then had a clear manic episode with elation and grandiosity that necessitated the hospitalization. During the relatively short stay on the psychiatric unit, he was placed on lithium carbonate and risperidone to treat the mania, which did respond. Although it was recommended that he follow up with a child and adolescent psychiatrist, through a series of happenstances he missed two appointments for an intake. He is now only able to get a new intake that is 4 months off.
You have continued to prescribe for him, waiting for what always seemed to be an imminent appointment. But now he comes to the office for a follow-up visit that can no longer wait. His mood symptoms are actually doing quite well. However, you have always known James to have a relatively thin build in the 25th percentile for weight and the 75th percentile for height. Now (is it possible?) 6 months after starting the risperidone and lithium, he returns to the office in the 50th percentile for weight and remains in the 75th percentile for height. There is nothing else noted to be concerning on physical or mental status examination, but you wonder what should be done for monitoring of his weight, should you be doing it, and whether there are other metabolic parameters that you should be measuring?
Regardless of your stance on pediatric bipolar disorder and the treatments for it, James has been placed on medications that need to be monitored. While it appears that James will, eventually, have a prescriber who can monitor his medication for side effects, it is incumbent on all of his providers to make sure that monitoring is occurring. Recent studies have demonstrated that guidelines for monitoring of antipsychotic use are not consistently being adhered to. For example, Rettew et al. (Pediatrics. 2015 Apr;135:658-65) recently reported that metabolic monitoring that included laboratory tests was reported in only 57.2% of cases where an antipsychotic was prescribed.
Children and adolescents placed on these agents should be monitored in a number of ways. First, height and weight should be taken at baseline and at follow-up visits – at least every 6 months. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry practice parameters state that “consideration of weight management interventions and increased regularity of blood glucose and lipid levels should be implemented if [atypical antipsychotic agent]–induced weight gain exceeds 90th percentile body mass index (BMI) for age, or a change of five BMI units in those youths who were obese at the beginning of treatment.” Fasting blood sugar, fasting triglyceride, and cholesterol panels should be done at baseline and at approximately 6-month intervals. Screening for dystonic movements with an Abnormal Involuntary Movement Scale (AIMS) should be done at 6-month intervals. In the case of risperidone, if there are any questions about gynecomastia, galactorrhea, and/or sexual dysfunction, a prolactin level should be considered. Certain other antipsychotics require specific monitoring (for example, ECG for prolonged QT interval for ziprasidone, CBC for clozapine, and an eye exam for quetiapine).
The most important kinds of monitoring are for dose and efficacy. While the antipsychotic medications may have a role, they are not a panacea and do carry longer-term risks of metabolic problems and obesity, among others. If it is possible to provide interventions to reduce the dose or duration of use, that is preferable. If not, it’s best to work with the psychiatrist (if available) to determine who will perform the monitoring and how often it will be done to stave off metabolic problems as early as possible.
Dr. Althoff is associate professor of psychiatry, psychology, and pediatrics at the University of Vermont, Burlington. He is director of the division of behavioral genetics and conducts research on the development of self-regulation in children. Dr. Althoff receives no funding from pharmaceutical companies or industry. He has grant funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the Klingenstein Third Generation Foundation and is employed, in part, by the nonprofit Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families that develops the Child Behavior Checklist and associated instruments. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.