Objective: It is generally believed that after the first episode of schizophrenia, the risk of relapse decreases with time in patients who are stabilized. Many treatment guidelines recommend that after stabilization, antipsychotic treatment should be continued for 1-5 years, and longer exposure should be avoided if possible. However, there is no published evidence to substantiate this view. The authors used nationwide databases to investigate this issue.
Method: Prospectively gathered nationwide register data were used to study the risk of treatment failure (psychiatric rehospitalization or death) after discontinuation of antipsychotic treatment. Multivariate Cox regression was used to assess outcomes among all patients hospitalized for the first time with a schizophrenia diagnosis in Finland during the period of 1996-2014 (N=8,719).
Results: The lowest risk of rehospitalization or death was observed for patients who received antipsychotic treatment continuously (adjusted hazard ratio=1.00), followed by patients who discontinued antipsychotic use immediately after discharge from the first hospital treatment (hazard ratio=1.63, 95% CI=1.52-1.75), within 1 year (hazard ratio=1.88, 95% CI=1.57-2.24), within 1-2 years (hazard ratio=2.12, 95% CI=1.43-3.14), within 2-5 years (hazard ratio=3.26, 95% CI=2.07-5.13), and after 5 years (a median of 7.9 years) (hazard ratio=7.28, 95% CI=2.78-19.05). Risk of death was 174%-214% higher among nonusers and patients with early discontinuation of antipsychotics compared with patients who received antipsychotic treatment continuously for up to 16.4 years.
Conclusions: Whatever the underlying mechanisms, these results provide evidence that, contrary to general belief, the risk of treatment failure or relapse after discontinuation of antipsychotic use does not decrease as a function of time during the first 8 years of illness, and that long-term antipsychotic treatment is associated with increased survival.
Keywords: Antipsychotic; Hospitalization; Relapse; Schizophrenia-First Episode.