Choice of observational study design impacts on measurement of antipsychotic risks in the elderly: a systematic review
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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:72 doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-72Published: 8 June 2012
Antipsychotics are frequently and increasingly prescribed to treat the behavioural symptoms associated with dementia despite their modest efficacy. Evidence regarding the potential adverse events of antipsychotics is limited and little is known about the longer-term safety of these medicines in the elderly. The aim of this review was to determine the impact of the choice of observational study design and methods used to control for confounding on the measurement of antipsychotic risks in elderly patients.
We searched PUBMED and the Cochrane controlled trials register for double-blind randomised controlled trials (RCTs), meta-analyses and published observational studies of antipsychotics.
Forty four studies were identified for the endpoints; death, cerebrovascular events, hip fracture and pneumonia. RCTs found a 20% to 30% increased risk of death, or an absolute increase of 1extra death per 100 patients with atypical antipsychotics compared to non-use. Cohort and instrumental variable analyses estimated between 2 to 7 extra deaths per 100 patients with conventional compared to atypical antipsychotics. RCTs found a 2 to 3 times increased risk of all cerebrovascular events with atypical antipsychotics compared to placebo and no association with serious stroke that required hospitalisation. Observational studies using cohort and self-controlled case-series designs reported similar results; no association where the endpoint was stroke causing hospitalisation and a doubling of risk when minor stroke was included. No RCTs were available for the outcome of hip fracture or pneumonia. Observational studies reported a 20% to 40% increased risk of hip fracture with both antipsychotic classes compared to non-use. The risk of pneumonia was a 2 to 3 times greater with both classes compared to non-use while a self-controlled case-series study estimated a 60% increased risk. Conventional antipsychotics were associated with a 50% greater hip fracture risk than atypical antipsychotics, while the risk of pneumonia was similar between the classes.
Choice of observational study design is critical in studying the adverse effects of antispychotics. Cohort and instrumental variable analyses gave more consistent results to clinical studies for mortality outcomes as have self-controlled case-series for the risk of cerebrovascular events and stroke. Observational evidence has highlighted the potential for antipsychotics to be associated with serious adverse events that were not reported in RCTs including hip fracture and pneumonia. Good quality observational studies are required, that employ appropriate study designs that are robust towards unmeasured confounding, to confirm the potential excess risk of hip fracture and pneumonia with antipsychotics.