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Mental Health Center

Antipsychotics in Kids May Add Weight

Study Shows Drugs Cause Changes in Body Fat and Blood Fat Levels
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 7, 2008 (Washington) -- Children who are taking antipsychotic drugs should be regularly monitored for potentially dangerous changes in body fat and lipids (blood fat).

So says a researcher who found that kids experienced almost immediate increases in body mass index (BMI) and triglyceride levels after they started taking the drugs.

Only 5% of people under age 20 "get their lipids regularly checked. That's a problem if they're taking an antipsychotic medication," says John Newcomer, MD, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

He presented early results from a study of children on three antipsychotic drugs at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

Antipsychotic Drugs Linked to Body Fat Changes

So far, 50 children ages 7 to 18 have completed the 12-week study. The children suffer from a wide range of ailments, including autism and pervasive developmental disorder. They were prescribed one of three medications: Zyprexa, Risperdal, or Abilify.

"Virtually 100% of the kids exposed to the medications had some degree of increase in body fat," Newcomer tells WebMD.

Specifically, the kids were in the 64th percentile of BMI for their age at the start of the study. By 12 weeks later, they were in the 77th percentile on the growth curve, he says. And their triglyceride levels shot up 20 points.

Preliminary results suggest Zyprexa causes the greatest changes in body fat and lipids, and Abilify the least.

Antipsychotic Drugs Have Clear Benefit

Newcomer stresses that the drugs work. "These are kids that got suspended from school due to overt aggression acts such as hitting people. For many they are a means of getting back in school."

In the study, "more than 90% had a robust clinically significant response in terms of reduced aggression and irritability. They are happier and their parents are happier," he says.

But the weight gain and changes in lipids are disturbing because studies have shown they may raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease in adulthood, Newcomer says. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of people with major mental disorders.

Parents should bring the kids in for regular checkups, which should include blood tests for lipid levels, he says.

"Diet and exercise modification goes without saying," he adds. "Certainly restrict access to junk food."

Dilip Jeste, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, notes that weight gain is a known complication of antipsychotic drugs in adults with schizophrenia.

"This shows that there's a risk associated with antipsychotic use across all age groups," he tells WebMD.

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