(NaturalNews) The highly popular class of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics may significantly increase a patient's risk of suffering from a fatal heart attack, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Antipsychotic drugs are designed to treat schizophrenia, but are often prescribed (sometimes off-label) for other conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression and even hyperactivity. The so-called atypical antipsychotics became popular in the 1990s and rapidly outstripped the older ("typical") antipsychotics in usage, largely due to the perception that they were safer. According to the current study, however, the newer drugs boost heart attack risk even more than the old ones.
"Many people thought the 'atypicals' would be much, much safer," researcher Wayne Ray said. "Our study suggests that they are not at all safer in regards to this serious end point."
The researchers reviewed medical records on 277,000 users of the Tennessee Medicaid program, looking at fatal heart attack risk among both users and nonusers of atypical antipsychotics.
Prior research has found that users of the older antipsychotics have a significantly higher risk of death than non-users, which led the FDA to update those drugs' warning labels in June.
"A similar increased risk was seen for current users of atypical antipsychotic drugs, who had a rate of sudden cardiac death that was more than twice that for non-users," the researchers in the current study wrote.
The researchers also found that the risk of fatal heart attack correlated directly with the dosage of antipsychotic being taken. The risk of heart death dropped quickly once patients stopped taking the drugs.
For years, the FDA has recognized that taking atypical antipsychotics significantly increases a person's risk of early death. This is attributed in part to the fact that the drugs interfere with the flow of potassium, an essential nutrient for regulating nerve and muscle (including heart) function.