Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Quetiapine for borderline personality -- journal article review

This is the first in a planned series of posts to summarize a few interesting articles from psychiatry journals published in 2014.

We begin with an article by Donald Black et al.from The American Journal of Psychiatry 171:1174-82.

It's a very simple 8-week randomized controlled study of treating borderline personality patients with either quetiapine XR 150 mg daily, quetiapine XR 300 mg daily, or placebo.  There were about 100 participants in all.   DSM-IV criteria were used for the diagnosis, and the participants could not have active substance abuse, or be in the midst of a major mood or anxiety episode, etc. 

The "Zanarini scale" was used to track symptom changes.  As I look up this scale, I find it appears to be a simple distillation of DSM-IV criteria, with raters giving each item a numerical score.   Unbelievably, I find that I cannot actually look at the questions directly (a fee of over $40 is requested!), which is quite surprising for what amounts to a small collection of very simple questions.

Nevertheless, the quetiapine groups did better than the placebo group on the borderline symptom scales.  But they did not do compellingly better on broader scales including the Sheehan Disability Scale or the GAF.    There was no advantage of the 300 mg dose over the 150 mg dose.

A few criticisms:

 1) I see the placebo group actually had lower baseline symptom scores, which could have biased the placebo group to show less improvement (e.g. through regression to the mean contributing to the larger symptom changes in the other two groups).     The fact that the graph given in the article showed only symptom change, rather than total symptom score, would have further hidden this bias from the reader.  The error bars were not shown in the graph of symptom change.   I see that the total symptom scores are not shown anywhere in the paper! I'm surprised this got past peer review in a major journal!

2) While 150 mg is considered "low dose" here, it would be useful to see what the effect of 25 mg or 50 mg would be. 

3)  As usual with studies of this sort, it is only 8 weeks in duration.  I would be interested in seeing a duration of at least a year.  This would be relevant not only for evaluating effectiveness (including symptom improvements and dropout rates), but also for evaluating side-effect risks (such as weight gain and metabolic changes).

4) The question is not addressed as to whether the more expensive quetiapine XR preparation is actually needed, compared to the less expensive regular quetiapine.  

In summary, a simple, mediocre study, which lends modest support for a practice that most practitioners probably already have done for years anyway -- which is to offer borderline patients treatment with low-dose atypical antipsychotic medications.

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