Journal of Psychiatry Depression & Anxiety Category: Clinical Type: Review Article
Perils of Pragmatic Psychiatry: How We Can Do Better
- Maju Mathew Koola1*, Joseph Sebastian2
- 1 Department Of Psychiatry And Behavioral Sciences, Sheppard Pratt Health System, George Washington University School Of Medicine And Health Sciences, Baltimore, MD, Washington DC, United States
- 2 Common Wealth Of Dominica, Portsmouth, Ross University School Of Medicine, West Indies, Barbados
*Corresponding Author:Maju Mathew Koola
Department Of Psychiatry And Behavioral Sciences, Sheppard Pratt Health System, George Washington University School Of Medicine And Health Sciences, Baltimore, MD, Washington DC, United States
Received Date: Nov 07, 2015 Accepted Date: Feb 09, 2016 Published Date: Feb 23, 2016
For a variety of reasons, many significant advances in neuroscience, pre-clinical studies, and phase 2 proof-of-concept studies have not been further studied or validated in large-scale trials. Thus, they have not translated to routine clinical practice. Furthermore, many other meaningful clinical observations may never be subject to high quality Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) or other large-scale higher quality evidence-based medicine. As such, current psychiatric practice relies on too few evidence-based treatments of modest effectiveness; rather than those, if further explored, would be more effective treatments.
Facing these realities, pragmatic psychiatric practice today requires optimal use of the resources available. This means more accurate applications of adequately studied diagnostic concepts, more widespread use of the evidence-based approved practices, and increased familiarity with novel and potentially helpful treatments. Granted however, that such treatments should themselves be based on available pre-clinical and lower quality clinical evidence (observational case reports, case series, open label trials, small RCTs) as shown in figure 1.
The purpose of this paper is to highlight some common pitfalls encountered in the practice of psychiatry, as well as to relay potential issues in making correct diagnoses. Some important, pragmatic, psychopharmacological “pearls” are also included; to potentially aid in the improvement of psychiatric practice.
COMMON IMPRECISION IN ASSESSMENT AND DIAGNOSIS
Schizophrenia and related psychoses
Imprecise diagnosis of bipolar disorder and mood lability
By definition, mood lability refers to oscillations between feelings of euphoria and feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, rage, or another strong emotion. Mood lability can be present in a variety of conditions including mood disorders, personality disorders, substance withdrawal states, or even delirious states. Hence, the term “mood lability” is nonspecific, and is often difficult to interpret when encountered in a patient’s history. This term is being overused as the primary indication for treatment, and is seen more frequently since “mood lability” has been set up as a default indication in many electronic medical record templates. Specifically, because mood stabilizers and Second Generation Antipsychotics (SGAs) are often prescribed on the basis of mood lability, it becomes imperative that the underlying conditions be clarified. If possible, the exact indications for each medication should be tied to those conditions rather than the broad indication of mood lability. If the term “mood lability” is not used accurately, it becomes a non-specific, potentially misleading term of limited value in evaluating the patient. Greater attention to definitional accuracy will not only limit over-prescription of medication, but also improve communication among clinicians in practice.
Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is another example of the need for accurate diagnoses and differentials. Clinicians are too often diagnosing DMDD using only the DSM-5 A-E criteria. The often overlooked G criterion for DMDD states that the categorical diagnosis should not be made for the first time in a patient before age 6 or after age 18. This alarming incidence of patients being incorrectly diagnosed with DMDD may be related, as mentioned earlier, to imprecise diagnosing, or to the inadequate categorical system of diagnosing. Sometimes, in addition to assessing and assigning a categorical diagnosis, patients must also be analyzed with the dimensional approach. The exclusive use of the categorical diagnosis and underutilization of the dimensional assessment prompts any outlier symptom, not fitting into the syndromal diagnosis, to be added as a footnote. Commonly, with long term follow up and evaluation, these outliers become more relevant, and the diagnosis clearer. For example, when patients are dimensionally diagnosed with major depression and bipolar disorder, it becomes redundant to add unspecified anxiety as a diagnosis; as symptoms of anxiety are commonly associated with these two diagnoses. The cross-cutting symptoms of DSM-5 may, in the future, resolve this issue.
Assessing comorbidities in substance use disorders
Consider the case of SUD and depression. It is imperative to ascertain whether the patient’s episodes of depression led to the substance use or vice versa. Patients can provide insight as to whether their depressive episodes are entirely due to substance use by recalling if their clinical depression persists for long periods of time when they are abstinent. This is crucial, as there is no evidence to suggest that an antidepressant or a mood stabilizer is effective in substance induced mood disorder . Abstinence is the treatment of substance induced mood disorder. An antidepressant is indicated only if there is MDD independent of SUD. Treating substance induced depression with an antidepressant is comparable to treating adjustment disorder with an antidepressant, which is not indicated. In treating the anxiety symptoms associated with SUD, buspirone and sertraline [7,8] have been shown to have better outcomes .
SUDs are also commonly linked to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Among people seeking help for the treatment of SUD, 30-50% have either lifetime or current PTSD diagnosis [10-13]. In 46 male Veterans, who were inpatients with SUD, 77% had severe childhood trauma, and 58% had lifetime PTSD. The total number of lifetime SUDs was significantly associated with childhood trauma experience . In 95 inpatients with SUD, the prevalence of current crime-related PTSD was 38% . The prevalence of PTSD in Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) can be up to 63% . Unfortunately, PTSD is often not detected and is under diagnosed by clinicians .
Changes from DSM-IV to DSM-5
PHARMACOLOGICAL TREATMENT: PERILS AND PEARLS
Minimize anticholinergic burden
Benzodiazepines are widely used to prevent behavioral disturbances in the elderly population; this may worsen dementia and delirium  and is associated with significant fall risk. In 421 outpatients with Alzheimer’s dementia with psychosis, aggression or agitation, participants were randomly assigned to treatment with olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, citalopram, or placebo for nine months. No differences were found between the medications and placebo [43-44]. Hence, in addition to judicious use of antipsychotics, acutely acting mood stabilizers, such as valproic acid, or other medications, such as propranolol or gabapentin, may be considered in treating agitation in dementia.
Better utilization of medications and programs: It is quite unfortunate that there has not been anything novel in the development of antipsychotics since 1952, when chlorpromazine first came into use. D2 antagonists are still a mainstay in the treatment of psychotic disorders. Clozapine has been very promising, and has been more effective than other antipsychotics in many cases. Even still, it remains underutilized . People with schizophrenia have poor insight into their illness, which leads to nonadherence to treatment. More patients should be offered Long Acting Injectable (LAI) antipsychotics [46,47]. Those currently receiving them may also need reminders to receive the LAI. It is not uncommon for patients with psychiatric diagnoses to miss psychiatric follow ups. The assertive community treatment team, case managers, and treatment guardians should monitor adherence with medications and regular follow ups. This may be successfully executed by regular checking, visiting, and phone calls. Forty five out of the 50 states in the US have outpatient civil commitment laws. This may significantly improve medication adherence and regular follow ups.
When choosing an antipsychotic, it is also important to mitigate the potential for adverse long term residual effects. With the SGAs in use since the 1990s, we can infer that the Tardive Dyskinesia (TD), caused by the SGAs, is less when compared to the First Generation Antipsychotics [FGA] [48-50]. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests a ban on the use of haloperidol for its clearly neurotoxic effects . On the other hand, SGAs promote neurogenesis [52,53]. Neurotoxicity from FGAs would be expected to be more problematic with chronic treatment. In a meta-analysis of 18 studies with 1,155 participants with schizophrenia, more progressive gray matter volume was seen in patients treated with at least one FGA, compared to those treated with only SGAs . FGAs and SGAs may have different neurobiological effects ; yet they have similar clinical effectiveness, as shown in the CATIE study . Given this information, some clinicians incorrectly believe that the use of FGAs with benztropine may be comparable to SGAs. The focus of the CATIE study was not to differentiate the neuroprotective effects between FGAs and SGAs . Clinicians continue to believe that the FGAs have more antipsychotic effect than the SGAs which is not correct.
Thus, antipsychotic per oral tablet prn should be reserved for the indication of severe agitation. For anxiety and restlessness, hydroxyzine, benzodiazepines (not in people with the potential for abuse), metoprolol, or propranolol prn  should be used more often. In the Emergency Room (ER) and within the inpatient unit, the antiquated practice of using IM injections of haloperidol, lorazepam and diphenhydramine together continues. Within this regimen, lorazepam may not be always necessary, and IM haloperidol is commonly associated with dystonia. Patients receiving IM haloperidol and diphenhydramine in the ER have reported acute dystonia after many hours. This may be because of the longer half life of haloperidol compared to diphenhydramine (nine hours in adults). This practice can and should be avoided. SGA IMs, with or without IM diphenhydramine, may be equally effective for the management of physical aggression. It is also a common practice to combine olanzapine IM and benzodiazepine IM within the ER and inpatient setting. Clinicians should be aware that concurrent use of olanzapine and parenteral benzodiazepines may result in potentiation of excessive sedation and cardiorespiratory depression  and Micromedex).
Low Peripheral Arterial Compliance (PAC) is associated with stroke and cardiovascular events, such as atherosclerosis, stroke, and myocardial infarction . Studies show quetiapine and risperidone use, as well as psychiatric diagnoses, are associated with low PAC . Hence, quetiapine should be reserved for schizophrenia and bipolar diagnoses, and not used simply for insomnia. Secondary analyses with this data set showed that the low weight gain liability antipsychotics, such as typicals, ziprasidone, and aripiprazole have higher PAC when compared to high weight gain liability antipsychotics. Furthermore, not being on an antipsychotic has the highest compliance values, compared to high and low weight gain liability antipsychotics.
BIPOLAR DEPRESSION (BD)
Although not commonly used in clinical practice, the olanzapine-fluoxetine combination for the treatment of BD was studied and published by Eli Lilly and company investigators . It should be noted that both olanzapine and fluoxetine are Eli Lilly and company products. In this study, olanzapine was found to be effective for BD as monotherapy; the olanzapine-fluoxetine combination was found to be significantly better than olanzapine alone. In this study, however, out of 833 subjects, only 86 were on the olanzapine-fluoxetine combination; the small sample is a limitation in drawing a firm conclusion. Unlike quetiapine and lurasidone, olanzapine is not currently FDA approved as monotherapy for BD. The olanzapine-fluoxetine regimen is one of the reasons why clinicians continue to justify the use of antidepressants in the treatment of BD. Another commonly used treatment for BD is valproic acid or carbamazepine with a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) or a Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor (SNRI). Since neither class of medications has been shown to treat BD, the efficacy of these combinations to do so is unknown. Although some review papers argue that antidepressants may be effective, recent RCTs do not support the use of antidepressants in BD. No model currently exits to allow clinicians to predict which cases will respond to antidepressant treatment in BD. Even still, clinicians are too often starting patients on trials of antidepressants to treat BD before exhausting all the proven and approved medications available for effective BD treatment. In the STEP-BD study, mentioned earlier, paroxetine 30 mg or bupropion 300 mg were used daily. The use of any higher doses of these antidepressants or other antidepressants may lead to mood cycling. To counteract this, clinicians often increase the dose of the mood stabilizers. This ultimately leads to even more side effects, drug-drug interactions and cost. This reiterates why clinicians should be more inclined to use those proven and effective medications for BD discussed previously.
A clinical pearl in BD pharmacotherapy: quetiapine, lurasidone, lithium, and lamotrigine as monotherapy or as combination treatment are the mainstay. In bipolar I with psychosis, quetiapine and lurasidone are the drugs of choice. This is because it can treat both bipolar symptoms including BD and psychosis. Alternatively, a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic may be started. But the antipsychotic is rarely stopped after psychosis remits.
MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER
In psychotic depression, aripiprazole may be the antipsychotic of choice because it can treat both depression and psychosis. In TRD, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and aerobic exercise have been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor . ECT may be reserved for catatonic patients, acutely suicidal patients, treatment resistant stage IV, which is resistance to MAOI , or treatment resistant psychotic depression. ECT may worsen cognitive impairments associated with depression, and thus should be discussed with the patients. ECT-associated cognitive impairments and the potential role of the glutamatergic system have been suggested. Memantine 5-20 mg, administered daily before ECT, has been shown to improve cognitive performance after ECT [87,88]. In many facilities, maintenance ECT, to prevent relapse, is not done . The Consortium for Research in ECT (CORE) reviewed 19 studies from 1997 to 2011. In these studies, successful ECT was followed by placebo, nortriptyline alone, or a combination of lithium and nortriptyline. It was found that continuation ECT was an effective alternative to continuation treatment with lithium and nortriptyline .
Patients may often be reluctant to discuss the sexual side effects of their medications. However, such side effects may play a part in the adherence to the medication. Clinicians should routinely check for this, and manage appropriately; to ensure that sexual side effects do not prompt nonadherence with treatment. The antidepressant with the least sexual side effect is bupropion. As discussed earlier with clinical use of antidepressants in the treatment of BD, medications like lamotrigine, quetiapine, and lurasidone are also being used as adjuncts in the management of MDD. Similarly, there is no supporting evidence in this case either. This practice may be extrapolation of the fact that aripiprazole is indicated for the treatment of MDD. In the treatment of MDD, clinicians may follow evidence based treatment including SSRIs, SNRIs, and TCAs. Medications mentioned earlier should be used as an adjuvant and to augment treatment. Medications such as omega-3 fatty acids, pramipexole and modafinil are effective for both MDD and BD. “For the present time, until a savior has arrived, one should fully use the weapons we have in our battle with depression ”.
POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
When treating PTSD, benzodiazepines can worsen nightmares and should be avoided . There are several failed trials of SSRIs for PTSD. SNRIs, because of the norepinephrine effect, may offer a better alternative. However, whether the alpha-1 adrenoreceptor antagonist effects would be counteracted by the noradrenergic reuptake inhibitor action of SNRIs has not been empirically studied yet.
In a large phase 3 RCT at 17 Veterans Affairs Medical Center sites (N=304), prazosin was not significantly better than placebo to treat PTSD. Several case reports, review papers, open label trials, and RCTs with smaller sample sizes have showed prazosin in PTSD with good effectiveness signal. Thus, the lack of level 1 evidence should not exclude this treatment from consideration within the standard of care. In many cases, level 2 evidence, as shown in figure 1, may be sufficient for extrapolation into clinical practice. Extrapolating level 2 evidence in to clinical practice is not limited to PTSD and may be considered for other disorders and target symptoms.
ALCOHOL AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS IN GENERAL PSYCHIATRIC PRACTICE
Buprenorphine has been shown to be as effective as buprenorphine/naloxone for the treatment of opiate withdrawal and opioid use disorder maintenance treatment. However, in the outpatient setting, it is difficult for many patients to find buprenorphine providers. The cost of 30 tablets of buprenorphine/naloxone 2/0.5 mg is $108.37, and buprenorphine/naloxone 8/2 mg is $200.62. On the other hand, buprenorphine 2 mg, costs $35.40 and buprenorphine 8 mg is $69.54/30. Clinicians should, again, take into account patient accessibility and cost while prescribing these medications. It is worth noting that, although the consensus is to avoid buprenorphine/naloxone in pregnancy, there is no evidence to suggest that buprenorphine is safer than buprenorphine/naloxone.
Substance use disorders
Alcohol use disorder
CONCLUSION AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Meta-analyses and systematic reviews are important and useful; they are not usually considered “level I” evidence. Reviews may reflect reviewer bias. Meta-analyses are most useful when relatively homogeneous studies lacked statistical power to separate active treatments.
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Citation:Koola MM, Sebastian J. Perils of Pragmatic Psychiatry: How We Can Do Better. J Psychiatry Depress Anxiety. 2016; 2(1): 1-11.
Copyright: © 2016 Maju Mathew Koola, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.