Schizophrenia drugs linked to diabetes

Schizophrenia Update, December 2002

Last Updated Thu, 03 Oct 2002 15:11:37
HALIFAX - Some doctors are warning about a class of anti-psychotic drugs linked to life-threatening side effects.

Health Canada has received reports that Zyprexa is suspected as the cause of four diabetes-related deaths. The drug was approved for use in Canada in 1996 and is made by Eli Lilly.

Zyprexa is part of a new class of drugs called atypical anti-psychotics. A growing number of schizophrenics in the country are using the new drugs, such as Clozaril. There are 300,000 schizophrenics in Canada.

People with schizophrenia experience three major types of symptoms:

psychotic symptoms: delusions and hallucinations
deficit symptoms: diminished emotions, social withdrawal and low motivation
mood symptoms: depression to suicidal

"It helps me by calming me down because I'm also nervous, my legs shake and my hands tremble," says Richard Thompson of Edmonton who has gained more than 30 pounds (14 kg) and developed diabetes since taking the drugs. His doctors believe the drug is at least partly responsible for his weight gain.

The most common side effects associated with Zyprexa are:

Other known, but less common, effects are listed as: skin rash, headache, depression, fast heart rate, constipation and weight gain.

Research published in the British Medical Journal and other journals suggest atypical anti-psychotics can cause diabetes.

"We suspect…those drugs interfere with some kind of chemical processes both in the brain and body and lead to the development of something called insulin resistance," says Dr. Pierre Chue, Thompson's doctor. "As that develops, the diabetes sets in."

Health Canada has received four reports of diabetes-related Zyprexa deaths over five years.

Two of those deaths involved teenage boys who fell into diabetic comas.

In the U.S., the government has collected reports of 140 people who developed diabetes after taking Clozaril.

The companies which make the drugs say people with schizophrenia tend to have unhealthy diets which put them at risk of getting diabetes.

Marie Josee-Poulin, a psychiatrist at Laval University in Quebec, says the evidence linking the drugs to diabetes isn't clear yet but she says the concerns are justified.

A Health Canada newsletter has warned doctors that atypical anti-psychotics may be associated with new cases of diabetes. Some doctors would like to see this as a clear warning on the label.

Both Poulin and Chue says too many doctors are unaware of the risks and side effects of the new class of anti-psychotics. They say patients should be closely monitored for signs of unstable blood sugars or weight gain.

Written by CBC News Online staff




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