From the Journals

Psychiatric comorbidities predict complex polypharmacy in bipolar disorder



Complex polypharmacy in patients with bipolar disorder was associated with sociodemographic and clinical features, including older age, single status, and psychiatric comorbidities, based on data from more than 500 individuals.

Patients with bipolar disorder (BD) often receive prescriptions for multiple medications to manage a range of medical and psychiatric symptoms, but the definition of polypharmacy in these patients is inconsistent, and characteristics associated with complex polypharmacy have not been well studied, wrote Andrea Aguglia, MD, of the University of Genoa, Italy, and colleagues.

Previous studies have shown an increased risk for comorbid medical and psychiatric illnesses in BD patients, the researchers noted, and changes in prescribing trends have prompted greater use of combination therapies such as mood stabilizers with or without antipsychotics.

In a study published in Psychiatry Research, the investigators reviewed data from 556 adults with BD. Participants were aged 18 and older with a primary diagnosis of BD type I or II based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, criteria. The mean age of the participants was 49.17 years, 43.7% were male, and 34.2% were employed. A total of 327 patients (58.8%) had a medical comorbidity, and 193 (34.7%) used an illicit substance.

A total of 225 patients (40.5%) met the criteria for complex polypharmacy by taking at least 4 medications.

BD patients with complex polypharmacy were significantly more likely than those without complex polypharmacy to be single (50.7% vs. 37.8%, P = .025) and unemployed (25.3% vs. 40.2%, P < .001).

On the clinical side, complex polypharmacy in BD patients was significantly associated with a higher prevalence of both medical and psychiatric comorbidities (65.3% vs. 54.4%, P = .010; and 50.7% vs. 34.1%, P < .001, respectively). The association with medical comorbidities and complex polypharmacy in BD was unexpected, the researchers said, “as psychotropic medications should be used with cautiousness in patients suffering from medical conditions.”

BD patients with complex polypharmacy also had a significantly earlier age of onset, longer duration of illness, and increased number of hospitalizations than those without complex polypharmacy.

Rates of at least one substance including alcohol, cannabinoids, and cocaine/amphetamines were significantly higher among BD patients with complex polypharmacy, compared with those without, but no differences in heroin use were noted between the groups.

In a logistic regression analysis, single status, older age, number of hospitalizations, and the presence of psychiatric comorbidities were significantly associated with complex polypharmacy.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the focus on an inpatient population, inability to consider clinical factors such as type of mood episode and bipolar cycle, and the cross-sectional design that prevented conclusions of causality, the researchers noted.

However, the study is the first known to focus on both sociodemographic and clinical factors associated with polypharmacy in BD, and the results suggest that implementing complementary psychosocial strategies might help reduce medication use in these patients, they concluded. Data from further longitudinal studies may help guide long-term management of BD, “especially when pharmacological discontinuation is needed,” they said.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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