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Susan L.


Obesity in Patients With Severe Mental Illness:

Overview and Management
Susan L. McElroy, MD

Severe mental illness and obesity are each serious public health problems that overlap to a clini-
cally significant extent. Unfortunately, some of the most effective medications for severe mental ill-
ness are associated with the greatest weight gain, and the most effective strategy for severe obesity,
bariatric surgery, is a treatment of last resort. First-line medication choices for patients with severe
mental illness and obesity should be effective for treating the mental disorder, safe, well-tolerated,
and, if possible, weight-neutral or associated with weight loss. If drugs with weight-inducing effects
must be used, emerging data indicate that behavioral weight management, if not already in place,
should be implemented and that adjunctive pharmacotherapeutic strategies should be considered. Se-
vere mental illness with obesity must be viewed as 2 chronic illnesses that each require long-term
management. (J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70[suppl 3]:12–21)

O besity and overweight are growing health concerns

for the general population and a rapidly increasing
concern for clinical populations, particularly patients with
weight increased from 45% to 58%. Similar results were
reported by the National Health and Nutrition Exami-
nation Survey (NHANES). The prevalence of obesity
severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar among adults in the United States over the course of the
disorder.1 Body mass index (BMI), expressed as weight (in NHANES increased from 15% in 1976 to 1980 to about
kilograms) divided by height squared (in meters), is com- 33% in 2003 to 2004.4 The prevalence of overweight in-
monly used to classify overweight (BMI = 25.0–29.9) and creased as well, from about 47% in 1976 to 1980 to about
obesity (BMI ≥ 30).2 66% in 2003 to 2004.4
In the United States, the prevalence of overweight and Obesity is a chronic medical disease caused by a persis-
obesity has grown dramatically over the past 2 decades. tent excess of energy intake relative to energy expendi-
A national survey3 in which adults reported their own ture.5–7 The characteristic pathology is enlarged fat cells,
weights estimated that, from 1991 to 2001, the incidence although some people also have an increase in cell num-
of obesity increased by 74%, from 12% to 21%, and over- ber.6,7 People with obesity have shorter life spans and are
at increased risk for a number of general medical con-
ditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease
From the Lindner Center of HOPE, Mason, Ohio. (ie, the combination of cerebrovascular disease, coronary
This article is derived from the planning teleconference series
“Balancing the Equation: Managing Comorbidities in Patients heart disease, and peripheral vascular disease), dyslipi-
With Severe Mental Illness,” which was held in August 2008 demia, hypertension, and certain cancers (Table 1).2,6,7 The
and supported by an educational grant from Pfizer Inc. amount of intra-abdominal or visceral adipose tissue in
Dr McElroy is a consultant for or a member of the
scientific advisory boards of AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, and Jazz; particular (more so than subcutaneous fat) is correlated
is a principal or co-investigator on research studies supported with the cardiovascular and metabolic complications of
by Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Forest,
GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Jazz, the National Institute of obesity; excess intra-abdominal fat is commonly referred
Mental Health, Orexigen Therapeutics, Pfizer, and Takeda; and to as abdominal obesity (or visceral or central adiposity)
is an inventor on US Patent No. 6,323,236 B2 “Use of Sulfamate and defined in the United States as a waist circumference
Derivatives for Treating Impulse Control Disorders,” and, along
with the patent’s assignee, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, > 88 cm in women and > 102 cm in men.2,6–9 Obesity is
Ohio, has received payments from Johnson & Johnson, which has also associated with the metabolic syndrome, a constel-
exclusive rights under the patent. Dr McElroy’s spouse/partner is a
consultant for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Forest, Organon, and lation of risk factors for cardiovascular disease that in-
Pfizer; is a principal or co-investigator on research studies supported clude central obesity, glucose intolerance, hypertension,
by Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli
Lilly, Janssen, NIMH, NIDA, Pfizer, and UCB; and is an inventor on
and dyslipidemia. Metabolic syndrome may also predict
US Patent No. 6,387,956, “Methods of treating obsessive-compulsive elevated cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.10,11
spectrum disorder comprises the step of administering an effective
amount of tramadol to an individual.”
Corresponding author: Susan L. McElroy, MD, Lindner Center of SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESS AND OBESITY
HOPE, 4075 Old Western Row Rd, Mason, OH 45040
Increasing evidence suggests that persons with severe
© Copyright 2009 Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc. mental disorders are at increased risk for overweight,

12 PSYCHIATRIST.COM J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70 (suppl 3)

Obesity and Overweight


◆ Patients with severe mental illness are at increased risk for obesity, both from the illness
itself and from its treatment.
◆ Obesity may produce not only serious health consequences but also poor outcomes of
mental illness treatment.
◆ Weight management in patients with obesity and mental illness should include
prescription of weight-neutral agents to manage psychiatric symptoms, assessment of
associated obesity comorbidity and metabolic risk factors, employment of behavioral
weight management strategies, and addition of pharmacotherapy for weight loss if

obesity, and abdominal obesity.1,12–14 Clinical studies have to 1.4) and abdominal obesity (OR = 3.8, 95% CI = 1.5 to
reported rates of obesity in patients with schizophrenia or 9.4) remained after adjusting for current antipsychotic
bipolar disorder of up to 60%.1 For example, Dickerson et medication use, diet, education, and smoking.
al15 compared 169 randomly selected outpatients with seri- In an analysis of data from a Canadian community sur-
ous mental illness (48% with schizophrenia and 52% with vey (N = 36,984), McIntyre et al20 reported that individu-
a major mood disorder) and a gender-, race-, and age- als with a lifetime history of a mood (bipolar or major de-
matched group of 2,404 persons from the NHANES pressive) disorder were more likely to be obese (19%)
III. Fifty percent of the female psychiatric sample and than those without a mood disorder (15%, P < .05). The
41% of the male psychiatric sample were obese compared age-adjusted rate of overweight or obesity (BMI ≥ 25)
with 27% of the NHANES female sample and 20% of in persons with bipolar I disorder was significantly higher
the NHANES male sample. Similarly, in an analysis of than that of the general population (55% vs 48%, P <
86,028 subjects in a health management organization data- .001).21 In an analysis of data from 9,125 respondents in
base, patients with bipolar disorder had a higher rate of the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication, Simon et
obesity (41%) than those without bipolar disorder (27%; al22 reported that obesity was significantly associated with
P = .002).16 a lifetime diagnosis of bipolar disorder (OR = 1.5, 95%
Although most studies included patients who were CI = 1.1 to 1.9); this association was greater for bipolar
receiving psychotropic medications, some found body disorder present in the last 12 months (OR = 1.6, 95%
weight abnormalities in early onset and/or medication- CI = 1.1 to 2.4). Evaluating data from 41,654 respondents
naive patients, such as abdominal obesity in schizophrenia in the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol
and obesity in bipolar disorder. Ryan et al17 found that 17 and Related Conditions, Petry et al23 found that obesity
patients with drug-naive, first episode schizophrenia had was associated with any mood disorder, including a manic
a significantly higher amount of intra-abdominal fat than episode (OR = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.3 to 1.9 for obesity and
age- and sex-matched control subjects who were also OR = 2.7, 95% CI = 2.0 to 3.7 for severe obesity). The re-
matched for BMI. An Italian study18 found that almost lationships remained after controlling for psychotropic
41% of untreated patients with bipolar disorder were over- medication use.
weight or obese compared with about 11% of patients with Persons with severe mental illness also have elevated
obsessive-compulsive disorder. rates of some of the generalized medical conditions that
Several recent, large community studies19–23 support are related to obesity, including type 2 diabetes and car-
the relationship between severe mental illness and obesity diovascular disease.24–30 They are also at increased risk
observed in clinical populations. Saarni et al19 examined for metabolic syndrome.16,31,32 Thus, compared with their
data from a community survey of 30-year-old Finnish NHANES counterparts, male and female schizophrenia
individuals (N = 8,082) and reported that schizophrenia patients participating in the Clinical Antipsychotic Trials
and schizoaffective disorder were associated with obesity of Intervention Effectiveness (CATIE) were 138% and
(odds ratio [OR] = 2.3, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.5 251% more likely, respectively, to have metabolic syn-
to 3.6), abdominal obesity (OR = 2.2, 95% CI = 1.3 to drome.32 A Spanish study of patients receiving treatment
3.6), and higher body fat percentage (mean difference = for bipolar disorder reported a significantly higher preva-
3.8%, 95% CI = 2.0 to 5.7) when compared with the rest lence of metabolic syndrome in these patients (about 25%)
of the sample after adjusting for age and gender. After ad- than in a control group without bipolar disorder (about
justing for BMI, a statistically significant association with 14%; P = .013), and this difference was largely due to
less muscle mass was found. The association between higher BMI, increased triglyceride levels, and decreased
these disorders and both obesity (OR = 1.9, 95% CI = 1.1 high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.16 Indeed, like

J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70 (suppl 3) PSYCHIATRIST.COM 13

Susan L. McElroy

Table 1. Physical Health Complications of Obesitya Table 2. Weight Liability of Psychotropic Agents Used in
Cancers Severe Mental Illnessa
Breast Drug Class Weight Loss Weight Neutral Weight Gain
Uterine Antidepressants Fluoxetine Sertraline Amitriptyline
Cervical Bupropion Nefazodone Nortriptyline
Colon Duloxetine Imipramine
Esophageal Citalopram Mirtazapine
Pancreatic Escitalopram Paroxetine
Kidney Venlafaxine
Prostate Anticonvulsants/ Topiramate Lamotrigine Valproate
Cardiovascular disorders Mood Zonisamide Oxcarbazepine Carbamazepine
Coronary heart disease Stabilizers Gabapentin
Stroke Lithium
Peripheral vascular disease Antipsychotics Ziprasidone Clozapine
Dermatological problems Aripiprazole Olanzapine
Skin infections (candidiasis) Haloperidol Quetiapine
Dermatitis Fluphenazine Risperidone
Pressure ulcers Molindone Thioridazine
Endocrine disorders Perphenazine Chlorpromazine
Type 2 diabetes a
Dyslipidemia Adapted with permission from McElroy et al.1
Metabolic syndrome
Gynecological problems
Abnormal menses
Polycystic ovary syndrome
increase abdominal obesity in treatment-naive schizophre-
Pregnancy complications nia patients.38
Pulmonary disease A study of inpatients in South Korea39 found that obe-
Hypoventilation syndromes
Obstructive sleep apnea
sity increased from 25% to 36% in the first 4 weeks of
Other conditions acute treatment of 179 consecutive patients with bipolar I
Osteoarthritis disorder. Notably, atypical antipsychotics were associated
Gallbladder disease
with more weight gain than other monotherapy treatments
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (typical antipsychotics and mood stabilizers), but patients
Hypertension treated with a combination of atypical antipsychotic and
Severe pancreatitis
mood stabilizer agents (eg, olanzapine and valproate)
Reprinted with permission from McElroy et al.1
showed the greatest weight gain.
Further supporting a link between obesity and antipsy-
chotic medication are findings that obesity is a risk factor
obese persons, persons with schizophrenia and bipolar dis- for noncompliance with antipsychotic medication. In a
order have shorter life spans and elevated mortality from survey40 of 304 schizophrenia patients, obese individuals
medical causes, with cardiovascular disease being the were more than twice as likely as those with normal
most common cause of death.30,33–35 However, it is as yet weight to report missing their medications (OR = 2.5,
unknown to what degree obesity contributes to this el- 95% CI = 1.1 to 5.5).
evated mortality.
Other Factors
PREDISPOSING FACTORS Obesity in patients with severe mental illness is also
FOR OBESITY IN THE SEVERELY MENTALLY ILL associated with factors associated with obesity in the gen-
eral population as well as illness-related factors. Regard-
Treatment-Related Factors ing the former, female gender, unhealthy lifestyle habits,
It is well-established that some antipsychotic, mood- and binge eating have been associated with obesity in both
stabilizing, and antidepressant agents cause weight gain schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.1,41,42 In CATIE, for ex-
(Table 2),1,12,13,36 and at least 1 community survey found ample, 72% of women had abdominal obesity versus 37%
an association between antipsychotic drug use and obe- of men. Regarding illness-related factors, obesity has been
sity.20 Growing evidence indicates that psychotropic treat- associated with poorer outcome in bipolar disorder.43 Fi-
ment may be associated with obesity in the severely nally, as genetic factors contribute to both obesity and se-
mentally ill. For example, a recent French study37 of vere mental illness, specific genetic factors may also pre-
5,756 patients with schizophrenia reported that obesity dispose certain individuals to the co-occurrence of obesity
occurred more often in patients taking antipsychotic and severe mental disorders.44,45 By contrast, one commu-
medication (clozapine, olanzapine, risperidone, or amisul- nity study21 found an inverse relationship between the
pride) than in those not receiving antipsychotic treatment. presence of comorbid overweight or obesity and substance
A Chinese study showed that atypical antipsychotics may use disorders in bipolar I disorder.

14 PSYCHIATRIST.COM J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70 (suppl 3)

Obesity and Overweight

Conclusion junctive intervention aimed at preventing or controlling

Clinical and community studies suggest that severe antipsychotic-induced weight gain”50(p101) with treatment
mental illness and its treatment are associated with obe- as usual were included. At least 75% of participants had
sity. They also suggest that the medical complications of to have been diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum dis-
obesity, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, orders per DSM or ICD criteria. The 10 trials that met
and metabolic syndrome, are more common in patients these criteria comprised 482 patients. Interventions in-
with severe mental disorders than in other populations. cluded cognitive-behavioral therapy (n = 6), nutritional
Causes of obesity in the mentally ill are likely to include counseling (n = 3), and the combination of nutritional
treatment, and illness-related factors. counseling with exercise (n = 1). Five trials tested group
interventions, and 5 tested individual interventions. Six
NONPHARMACOLOGIC trials aimed to reduce weight and 4 aimed to prevent
APPROACHES TO MANAGING WEIGHT weight gain. The primary outcome measures were mean
change in body weight and BMI by the end of the inter-
An increasing number of guidelines have been vention (at 8 weeks through 6 months), with follow-up
proposed for monitoring patients with severe mental ill- at 2 to 3 months after the end of the intervention. Results
ness and obesity or obesity-related medical comorbidi- showed a statistically significant reduction in mean body
ties.24,25,27,28,46 Most of these guidelines recommend regu- weight for those in the nonpharmacologic treatment
lar monitoring of BMI, waist circumference, lipid profile, groups compared with those who received treatment as
and fasting plasma glucose level in patients with psy- usual (weighted mean difference [WMD] = –2.6 kg, 95%
chotic disorders, especially those receiving antipsychot- CI = –3.2 to –1.9 kg, P < .001). Similar significant results
ics. Some have made similar recommendations for pa- in favor of nonpharmacologic treatments were seen for
tients with bipolar disorder. mean change in BMI (WMD = –0.9 kg/m2, 95% CI =
The guidelines proposed by Marder et al25 recommend –1.1 to –0.7 kg/m2, P < .001). Pooling treatment effects of
recording the patient’s BMI before medication initiation mean changes in body weight and BMI showed that the
or a change in medication and at every visit for the first 6 statistically significant advantages of the behavioral inter-
months thereafter. Importantly, rapid weight gain in the ventions were maintained at follow-up (WMD = –4.1 kg,
first month of treatment may be a risk factor for further 95% CI = –5.8 to –2.5, P < .001). Trials that aimed to
substantial weight gain.47 After the first 6 months of treat- prevent weight gain showed a slightly larger effect on
ment, as long as the BMI remains stable and the patient is mean body weight change than those designed to reduce
not overweight, the guidelines specify that the BMI can weight. The authors concluded that adjunctive behavioral
be monitored quarterly. By contrast, a weight gain of 1 interventions were effective in reducing antipsychotic-
BMI unit indicates the need for an intervention, unless the associated weight gain when compared with treatment as
patient was underweight. Some of the interventions sug- usual. They further suggested that using such approaches
gested by Marder et al25 include closer monitoring of the in the early stages of antipsychotic treatment had the po-
patient’s weight, engaging the patient in a weight man- tential to be more effective than employing them after the
agement program, switching the patient’s antipsychotic patient was already obese.
medication to an agent with less weight-gain liability, and
using an adjunctive medication to reduce weight. Diet Versus Exercise
Two critical components of behavioral weight man-
Behavioral Weight Management agement are modifying diet and enhancing exercise. Few
Behavioral weight management remains the corner- empirical studies of these individual components have
stone of obesity treatment.2,5–7 It consists of 3 goals for the been conducted in severely mentally ill populations.
individual: decreasing caloric intake, increasing physical Diet. Epidemiologic evidence51,52 suggests that diets
activity, and learning cognitive-behavioral strategies to low in fish consumption may be associated with increased
reinforce positive changes in dietary habits and physical risk of developing mood disorders and depressive symp-
activity. Importantly, patients with schizophrenia have toms and with poorer outcome of schizophrenia. Further,
expressed interest in losing weight and willingness to par- double-blind, placebo-controlled studies53,54 suggest that
ticipate in weight loss programs.48 Several reviews have omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements may be effec-
concluded that patients with severe mental illness can tive adjunctive treatments for medication-resistant bi-
safely lose weight with behavioral weight-loss strate- polar disorder, major depression, and possibly schizo-
gies.1,14,49,50 For example, a recent meta-analysis50 as- phrenia. Until further data are available, however, diets
sessed the effectiveness of such interventions to treat high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in
antipsychotic-induced weight gain in patients with either saturated fats are recommended.1,2
first-episode or chronic schizophrenia. Randomized con- An established weight loss program that was modified
trolled trials comparing “a specific nonpharmacologic ad- for obese patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective

J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70 (suppl 3) PSYCHIATRIST.COM 15

Susan L. McElroy

disorder was used successfully in a randomized con- Figure 1. Treatment Considerations for Patients With Mental
trolled pilot trial using a food reimbursement program.55 Illness and Comorbid Obesitya
Patients were reimbursed up to $25/wk for choosing
healthy foods; these included fruits, vegetables, lower fat Patient with comorbid
dairy products, whole grain breads and cereals, and lean mental illness and obesity
cuts of meat and poultry. Snack foods and desserts were
not reimbursable. The patients experienced weight loss Initiate treatment that is likely to be
and improvement in fasting blood glucose, which con- weight neutral or likely to cause weight
loss to control psychiatric symptoms
tinued after the program ended according to 6-month
Exercise. The few controlled trials of exercise in pa- No change in
weight or
tients with severe mental illness and obesity have had loss
weight gain
positive results.56–58 In a Taiwanese study,57 53 clozapine-
treated, obese inpatients with schizophrenia were ran- Behavioral
Continue current
domly assigned to a 6-month regimen of diet and exer- treatment modification
cise or no intervention for weight gain. The study group
(N = 28) was placed on a reduced calorie diet and partici-
pated in physical activity (level walking and walking on Weight No change in
loss weight or
stairs) for 1 hour 3 times per week. Anthropometric, met- weight gain
abolic, and hormonal parameters were measured at 3 and
6 months. Relative to the control group, the study group Continue current Pharmacotherapy
showed significant decreases in body weight, BMI, and treatment for weight loss
waist and hip circumferences at both time points as well
as improvement in insulin, triglyceride, and insulin-like No change in
growth factor-binding protein-3 profiles. loss
weight or
weight gain
A naturalistic Australian study58 examined the ef-
fectiveness of an exercise program in 110 patients with
bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective dis- Continue current
order who were taking antipsychotic medication. The in- surgery
tervention group (N = 59) received education about diet
and exercise and participated in a structured, supervised Adapted with permission from McElroy et al.1
physical activity program for 18 months, while the con-
trol group did not. By endpoint, the intervention group
had significantly lower body weight, BMI, and waist cir- regimen and using behavioral modification, then switch-
cumference than at baseline, as well as significantly im- ing to antipsychotics with less weight gaining liability or
proved lipid and fasting glucose profiles. The control adding pharmacotherapy specifically for weight loss may
group had experienced significant increases since base- be considered; bariatric surgery is a last resort (Figure 1).1
line in weight, BMI, waist circumference, low-density li-
poprotein cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Fur- Switching Antipsychotic Agents
ther study of the effects of both diet and exercise in Switching antipsychotic medications to promote
severely mentally ill patients is warranted. weight loss is an important treatment approach for the
management of obesity in the severely mentally ill.59,60
PHARMACOTHERAPY TO CONTROL WEIGHT GAIN For example, clinical data have shown that patients may
successfully be switched for weight loss from olanzapine
As noted earlier, many of the medications commonly to risperidone61 and from various antipsychotics to either
used to treat severe mental illness are associated with ziprasidone62 or aripiprazole.63 Patients switched to zipra-
weight gain, and this weight gain may exacerbate or even sidone or aripiprazole may also have improvement in
cause obesity. Other medications, however, are weight metabolic measures such as hyperlipidemia.64,65 New-
neutral and some are associated with weight loss (see comer et al66 recently examined the effects of aripiprazole
Table 2). The general approach to treating the severely in overweight patients switched from olanzapine and
mentally ill patient with obesity is to choose pharmaco- found improvements in both body weight and triglyceride
logic agents that are efficacious for the patient’s primary levels. The difference between the weight decrease with
mental disorder and that are weight neutral or, if avail- aripiprazole (–1.8 kg [n = 56]) versus the increase with
able, associated with weight loss. If weight loss cannot be olanzapine (+1.4 kg [n = 62]) was statistically significant
accomplished through adjusting the psychotropic drug (P < .001; Figure 2). A secondary outcome was the

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Obesity and Overweight

Figure 2. Change in Body Weight From Baseline to Week 16a Anticonvulsants

Topiramate, zonisamide, and lamotrigine have all
2.5 Aripiprazole been shown in controlled trials to have weight loss prop-
2.0 Olanzapine
erties or to decrease BMI in obese patients without severe
mental illness.75–78 Topiramate has been associated with
Baseline in Body Weight (kg)
Mean ± SE Change From

weight loss in randomized, placebo-controlled trials in
0 patients with bipolar I mania when given as monother-
–0.5 apy,79 and in patients with bipolar I disorder and schizo-
affective disorder when given adjunctively.80,81 It was
–1.5 also associated with weight loss in a single-blind, 8-week
–2.0 * comparator trial in bipolar depression.69 Moreover, in a
–2.5 * * post hoc analysis of 2 randomized, placebo-controlled
0 4 8 12 16 studies comparing lamotrigine and lithium in bipolar
Week of Treatment disorder, lamotrigine monotherapy was associated with
weight loss in obese patients who responded to the
Reprinted with permission from Newcomer et al.50 Mean ± SE
baseline body weight: aripiprazole (n = 81), 91.3 + 2.1 kg; drug.82
olanzapine (n = 77), 92.7 ± 2.1 kg. Two randomized, placebo-controlled studies83,84 have
*P < .001, aripiprazole versus olanzapine. evaluated topiramate for weight control in patients with
severe mental illness. In the first study,83 66 inpatients
with schizophrenia and excessive weight received topira-
change in fasting triglyceride levels, which were also sta- mate at either 100 mg/d or 200 mg/d or placebo in addi-
tistically significantly improved with aripiprazole versus tion to their antipsychotic medication. After 12 weeks,
olanzapine from baseline to week 16 (–14.5% [n = 54] patients in the 200 mg/d topiramate group had greater
vs. +5.3% [n = 61], respectively; P = .002). While result- weight loss than the 100 mg/d topiramate group and the
ing weight loss and metabolic changes may be favorable, placebo group. In the second study,84 43 women with
careful monitoring must be used during any switch to en- mood or psychotic disorders who had gained weight with
sure that symptoms are not destabilized. olanzapine were randomly assigned to receive topiramate
or placebo for 10 weeks. The treatment group lost more
Antidepressants weight and had greater improvement in quality of life and
Some antidepressants, such as fluoxetine and bupro- psychological impairments than the placebo group.
pion, have been associated with weight loss, including in No other controlled trials of anticonvulsants as weight
obesity.67 Moreover, the combination of bupropion with loss agents in severely mentally ill patients have been
naltrexone is associated with greater weight loss than ei- published. However, 2 open-label trials85,86 found that ini-
ther drug alone and is presently being evaluated as a treat- tiating treatment with the combination of topiramate and
ment for obesity.68 Although neither bupropion alone nor either risperidone or olanzapine successfully stabilized
bupropion plus naltrexone has been evaluated in severely mood in patients with bipolar disorder while preventing
mentally ill patients with obesity or psychotropic drug- weight gain. In addition, 2 open-label trials87,88 suggest
related weight gain, adjunctive bupropion was associated adjunctive zonisamide may have weight loss effects in
with weight loss in a single blind, 8-week comparator trial overweight or obese patients with bipolar disorder who
in patients with bipolar depression.69 In addition, the sel- are receiving mood stabilizers and/or antipsychotics. Of
ective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor antidepressant the 62 outpatients with bipolar disorder who entered the
reboxetine was superior to placebo in attenuating weight first study,87 32 patients completed an initial 8-week
gain in 26 patients with schizophrenia.70 acute trial and entered a subsequent 48-week continua-
By contrast, fluoxetine was not effective in preventing tion trial. Significant weight loss was found in both trials
weight gain among patients with schizophrenia71 or pa- (P < .001), but 20 patients (32%) discontinued zonisa-
tients with bipolar depression receiving olanzapine.72 Nor mide because their mood symptoms worsened. In the sec-
was fluoxetine effective in reducing weight in olanzapine- ond study,88 a 6-month trial of 25 euthymic, overweight
treated schizophrenia patients (baseline mean BMI 25– outpatients with bipolar disorder, significant weight loss
27) when given at a relatively high dose (60 mg/d).73 How- was again seen, but 18 patients (72%) discontinued zoni-
ever, a randomized, 12-week study in 68 patients with samide, 11 (44%) because of emergent mood symptoms
treatment-resistant schizophrenia suggested adjunctive requiring treatment.
fluvoxamine may attenuate clozapine-related weight gain Further studies of anticonvulsants with weight loss
and metabolic disturbances (glucose and triglyceride ab- properties for weight reduction in severe mentally ill
normalities), possibly in part by inhibiting clozapine me- patients with obesity, including randomized, placebo-
tabolism and decreasing norclozapine levels.74 controlled trials, would be informative.

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Susan L. McElroy

Adjunctive Weight Loss Pharmacotherapy illness, since there have been reports of exacerbations of
Stimulants and dopamine agonists. Virtually all stimu- psychotic and manic symptoms associated with the drug.1
lants, such as methylphenidate, are associated with appe- Orlistat. Orlistat is a lipase inhibitor approved for
tite suppression and weight loss, and some (phentermine, weight loss and weight maintenance in obesity. In a
diethylpropion, benzphetamine, and phendimetrazine) are 16-week study102 of adjunctive orlistat or placebo in 71
approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) overweight or obese patients receiving clozapine or olan-
as short-term weight loss agents.67 However, no stimulant zapine, orlistat had no effect on weight or metabolic vari-
is approved by the FDA for the treatment of a psychotic ables in the study population as a whole or in women.
or mood disorder, although there are reports of stimulants However, significant weight loss was seen in men (–2.4
being helpful for negative and depressive symptoms.1,89,90 kg vs +0.6 kg on placebo).
Similarly, no dopamine agonist has been approved for the
treatment of psychotic or mood disorders, although some Metabolic Drugs
of these agents have been reported to have weight loss Metformin. Three controlled trials103–105 have shown
effects in obese patients (bromocriptine)91 and to decrease that antipsychotic-associated weight gain and insulin re-
depressive symptoms in patients with bipolar depression sistance may be attenuated with adjunctive metformin, an
(pramipexole).92,93 When used adjunctively in patients insulin-sensitizing medication used for type 2 diabetes. In
with severe mental disorders, stimulants and dopamine the first study,103 metformin was superior to placebo over
agonists might not only alleviate weight gain but also 16 weeks of treatment in reducing weight gain, decreased
have therapeutic effects on negative and/or depressive insulin sensitivity, and abnormal glucose metabolism in
symptoms. 39 children or adolescents with severe mental disorders
Unfortunately, most of the studies of stimulants and whose weight had increased by ≥ 10% during less than
dopamine agonists in patients with psychotic or mood dis- 1 year of olanzapine, risperidone, or quetiapine therapy
orders do not report effects on weight. Studies of weight (baseline mean BMI = 27–29). In the second study,104 40
reduction with the stimulants chlorphenetermine and patients were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of treatment
phenmetrazine94 and dextroamphetamine95 in schizophre- with olanzapine, 15 mg/d, plus metformin, 750 mg/d, or
nia patients with obesity were negative. A study96 of phe- olanzapine plus placebo. Weight and insulin parameters
nylpropanolamine in patients who gained weight during were significantly better in the metformin group. In addi-
clozapine treatment was also negative. Two controlled tion, metformin was well tolerated, and 92.5% of patients
trials97,98 of the dopamine agonist amantadine in patients completed the 12 weeks of treatment. Of note, most of the
with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar patients in this study were normal weight; baseline mean
disorder who had gained weight with olanzapine, how- BMI was 21 to 22. In the third study,105 128 first-episode
ever, found efficacy for amantadine in reducing weight patients with schizophrenia who had gained ≥ 10% of
gain. their pre-treatment weight (baseline mean BMI = 25)
Sibutramine. Sibutramine is a selective serotonin nor- were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of placebo, metfor-
epinephrine reuptake inhibitor approved for weight loss min alone, metformin and lifestyle intervention, or life-
and weight maintenance in persons with obesity.67 In style intervention plus placebo. Metformin alone, lifestyle
a double-blind, 12-week study,99 adjunctive sibutramine intervention alone, and the 2 treatments together were all
was superior to placebo for weight loss in 37 overweight efficacious for antipsychotic-induced weight gain. The
or obese patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective combination was superior to metformin alone and life-
disorder who were receiving olanzapine. The drug was style intervention alone for weight loss. Metformin alone
also associated with greater decreases in waist circumfer- was more effective than lifestyle intervention alone for
ence and glycosylated hemoglobin levels. In a study100 of weight loss and improving insulin sensitivity. However, a
46 patients with bipolar disorder who were overweight or 12-week placebo-controlled trial106 found that the combi-
obese and receiving psychotropic medication, sibutramine nation of metformin and sibutramine in 28 olanzapine-
(n = 18) and topiramate (n = 28) were comparably effec- treated patients produced weight loss similar to placebo
tive for weight loss, but only 22% of patients taking sibu- (–2.8 ± –3.2 kg vs –1.4 ± –2.6 kg, respectively); the only
tramine and 21% of those taking topiramate completed the difference between active and placebo groups was pre-
24-week trial. By contrast, in another study,101 sibutramine vention of triglyceride level increase in the active drug
was not found to promote weight loss or metabolic im- group.
provement compared with placebo in obese, clozapine-
treated patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective dis- Other Agents
order, but the negative findings may have been due to H2 antagonists. One randomized, placebo-controlled,
small sample size (N = 21) or inadequate trial duration (12 8-week trial107 found that nizatidine significantly reduced
weeks). Sibutramine, like stimulants and antidepressants, weight in patients receiving olanzapine (N = 35). How-
should be used cautiously in patients with severe mental ever, 2 other placebo-controlled trials found that nizati-

18 PSYCHIATRIST.COM J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70 (suppl 3)

Obesity and Overweight

dine did not significantly reduce weight in schizophrenia antipsychotic-induced weight gain; and topiramate and zonisamide are
not approved for the treatment of weight loss in obesity, psychotropic-
patients receiving quetiapine (N = 28)108 or olanzapine induced weight gain, and bipolar disorder.
(N = 54)109 after 8 or 12 weeks of treatment, respectively.
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