Background: Although increased mortality is one of the most consistent and accepted epidemiological findings in schizophrenia, a high rate of suicide appears unable to account fully for this burden which remains poorly understood.
Method: A cohort of 88 in-patients was followed prospectively over a 10-year period and predictors of survival sought among demographic, clinical and treatment variables.
Results: Over the decade, 39 of the 88 patients (44%) died, with no instances of suicide. Reduced survival was predicted by increasing age, male gender, edentulousness and time since pre-terminal withdrawal of antipsychotics; additionally, two indices of polypharmacy predicted reduced survival: maximum number of antipsychotics given concurrently (relative risk 2.46, 95% CI 1.10-5.47; P = 0.03) and absence of co-treatment with an anticholinergic (relative risk 3.33, 95% CI 0.99-11.11; P = 0.05).
Conclusions: Receiving more than one antipsychotic concurrently was associated with reduced survival, in the face of little or no systematic evidence to justify the widespread use of antipsychotic polypharmacy. Conversely, over-cautious attitudes to the use of adjunctive anticholinergics may require re-evaluation.