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QTc interval prolongation is considered a risk factor for fatal polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, which can result in sudden cardiac death. Most psychotropic drugs have a dose-dependent potential to prolong the QTc interval. However, other factors require appropriate consideration, including: age; gender; other medications; electrolyte abnormalities; severe comorbid conditions, such as co-occurring alcohol or substances abuse/dependence.
The objective was to study the potential mediating roles of alcohol/substances abuse on QTc prolongation.
The Italian research group STAR Network, in collaboration with the Young Italian Psychiatrists Association, aimed to evaluate the frequency of QTc interval prolongation in a sample of patients under treatment with psychotropic drugs through a cross-sectional national survey.
A sample of 2411 unselected patients were enrolled after performing an ECG during the recruitment period. Sociodemographic and clinical characteristics were collected from medical records. Collected data underwent statistical analysis.
A total of 11.2% of patients reported alcohol abuse, and only 8.9% psychotropic substances. According to the threshold, less than 20% of patients had a borderline value of QTc, and 1% a pathological value. Patients with co-occurring alcohol misuse and drug abuse were more likely to have longer QTc interval.
The present study describes the frequency of QTc prolongation in real-world clinical practice. Before prescribing a psychotropic drug, the physician should carefully assess its risks and benefits to avoid this type of adverse reaction, particularly when additional risk factors are present. The potential role of alcohol and substances on QTc length could be particularly useful in emergency settings.
Disclosure of interest
The authors have not supplied their declaration of competing interest.
In recent years several warnings have been issued by regulatory authorities on the risk of electrocardiogram abnormalities in individuals exposed to psychotropic drugs. As a consequence of these warnings, monitoring of the QT interval corrected for heart rate (QTc) has become increasingly common. This study was conducted to measure the frequency of QTc prolongation in unselected psychiatric patients, and to document the associated factors using a cross-sectional approach.
The study was carried out in 35 Italian psychiatric services that are part of the STAR (Servizi Territoriali Associati per la Ricerca) Network, a research group established to produce scientific knowledge by collecting data under ordinary circumstances. During a three-month period, a consecutive unselected series of both in- and out-patients were enrolled if they performed an ECG during the recruitment period and were receiving psychotropic drugs on the day ECG was recorded.
During the recruitment period a total of 2411 patients were included in the study. The prevalence of QTc prolongation ranged from 14.7% (men) and 18.6% (women) for the cut-off of 450 ms, to 1.26% (men) and 1.01% (women) for the cut-off of 500 ms. In the multivariate model conducted in the whole sample of patients exposed to psychotropic drugs, female sex, age, heart rate, alcohol and/or substance abuse, cardiovascular diseases and cardiovascular drug treatment, and drug overdose were significantly associated with QTc prolongation. In patients exposed to antipsychotic drugs, polypharmacy was positively associated with QTc prolongation, whereas use of aripiprazole decreased the risk. In patients exposed to antidepressant drugs, use of citalopram, citalopram dose and use of haloperidol in addition to antidepressant drugs, were all positively associated with QTc prolongation.
The confirmation of a link between antipsychotic polypharmacy and QTc prolongation supports the current guidelines that recommend avoiding the concurrent use of two or more antipsychotic drugs, and the confirmation of a link between citalopram and QTc prolongation supports the need for routine QTc monitoring. The relatively low proportion of patients with QTc prolongation not only suggests compliance with current safety warnings issued by regulatory authorities, but also casts some doubts on the clinical relevance of QTc prolongation related to some psychotropic drugs.
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