Antipsychotics and the Risk of Aspiration Pneumonia in Individuals Hospitalized for Nonpsychiatric Conditions: A Cohort Study

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 Dec;65(12):2580-2586. doi: 10.1111/jgs.15066. Epub 2017 Nov 2.


Background/objectives: Off-label use of antipsychotics is common in hospitals, most often for delirium management. Antipsychotics have been associated with aspiration pneumonia in community and nursing home settings, but the association in hospitalized individuals is unexplored. We aimed to investigate the association between antipsychotic exposure and aspiration pneumonia during hospitalization.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Large academic medical center.

Participants: All adult hospitalizations between January 2007 and July 2013. We excluded outside hospital transfers, hospitalizations shorter than 48 hours, and psychiatric hospitalizations.

Measurements: Antipsychotic use defined as any pharmacy charge for an antipsychotic medication. Aspiration pneumonia was defined according to a discharge diagnosis code for aspiration pneumonia not present on admission and validated using chart review. A generalized estimating equation was used to control for 43 potential confounders.

Results: Our cohort included 146,552 hospitalizations (median age 56; 39% male). Antipsychotics were used in 10,377 (7.1%) hospitalizations (80% atypical, 35% typical, 15% both). Aspiration pneumonia occurred in 557 (0.4%) hospitalizations. The incidence of aspiration pneumonia was 0.3% in unexposed individuals and 1.2% in those with antipsychotic exposure (odds ratio (OR) = 3.9, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 3.2-4.8). After adjustment, antipsychotic exposure was significantly associated with aspiration pneumonia (adjusted OR = (aOR) = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.2-1.9). Similar results were demonstrated in a propensity-matched analysis and in an analysis restricted to those with delirium or dementia. The magnitude of the association was similar for typical (aOR = 1.4, 95% CI = 0.94-2.2) and atypical (aOR = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.1-2.0) antipsychotics.

Conclusion: Antipsychotics were associated with greater odds of aspiration pneumonia after extensive adjustment for participant characteristics. This risk should be considered when prescribing antipsychotics in the hospital.

Keywords: antipsychotics; aspiration; hospitalization; pneumonia.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / chemically induced*
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Young Adult


  • Antipsychotic Agents