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Optimizing Treatment With Clozapine

Robert R. Conley, M.D.

Published: August 1, 1998

Article Abstract

Clozapine is the only antipsychotic agent that is effective in treatment-resistant schizophrenia. Despiteits superior efficacy to chlorpromazine and the fact that it has fewer extrapyramidal side effectsthan conventional antipsychotics do, clozapine is relatively underused. This may be due in part to alack of appreciation of clozapine’s favorable risk-benefit ratio in many patients. In addition, clozapineis only indicated for use in patients who fail to respond adequately to standard antipsychotic treatment.Treatment with clozapine considerably improves psychiatric well-being and reduces readmissionto the hospital and reduces family burden in many severely ill patients. However, clozapine isassociated with severe side effects, including weight gain, tachycardia, sedation, seizures, and agranulocytosis.These risks must be weighed against the risks associated with schizophrenia (e.g., suicide).The death rate attributed to clozapine-induced agranulocytosis has been low, a fact that is largely attributableto safety measures such as the Clozaril National Registry. Determining the optimal dosagefor each patient will maximize the benefits of treatment while reducing side effects. In some patients,monitoring plasma levels of drug may aid in optimizing treatment. The optimal plasma level of clozapineis 200 to 350 ng/mL. This usually corresponds to a daily dose of 200 to 400 mg, although dosagemust be individualized. If patients improve significantly during treatment with clozapine, they shouldcontinue to be treated with clozapine and should be withdrawn from this treatment only when medicallywarranted. Psychotic relapse rates may be as high as 80% among patients switched from clozapineto other novel antipsychotic agents.

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Volume: 59

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