From the Journals

Asthma treatment does not appear to raise risk of neuropsychiatric disease


Use of a leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA) for asthma management did not increase the risk of neuropsychiatric disease, based on data from more than 60,000 asthma patients.

Although LTRAs are established as an effective drug for asthma, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warnings of the risk for neuropsychiatric (NP) drug reactions – including a boxed warning for montelukast (Singulair) – has raised concerns, writes Ji-Su Shim, MD, of Ewha Womans University, Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues.

However, evidence for such an association is limited, and previous studies have focused only on children and adolescents, and on a single LTRA (montelukast), the researchers say.

In a study published Dec. 1 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, the researchers used a Korean national health insurance database to identify 61,571 adult patients with asthma aged 40 years and older between Jan. 2002 and Dec. 2015 with no history of LTRA use.

The patients underwent screening examinations between Jan. 2009 and Dec. 2010, which marked the start of a follow-up period ending on Dec. 31, 2015. The median age of the study population was 61 years, and the mean follow-up period for NPs or other outcomes was approximately 47.6 months for LTRA users and 46.5 months for nonusers. Overall, 11.1% of the study population used pranlukast (Onon), 11% used montelukast, and 0.24% used zafirlukast (Accolate).

A total of 12,168 patients took an LTRA during the follow-up period. The hazard ratio for newly diagnosed neuropsychiatric diseases was not significantly different between LTRA users and nonusers (hazard ratio, 1.01; P = .952) in an adjusted model that included age, sex, pack-years of smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, body mass index, comorbid conditions, other respiratory diseases, and use of other asthma medications.

The most common NPs were dementia, mood disorders, and panic disorders, and the prevalence of each was not significantly different between LTRA users and nonusers (75.4% vs. 76.1% for dementia, 12.7% vs. 12.8% for mood disorders, and 5.6% vs. 3.5% for panic disorders).

A subgroup analysis for associations between the duration of LTRA use and NP disease risk also showed no significant difference between LTRA users and nonusers.

“The mechanism of the development of NP symptoms by LTRAs has not been identified,” the researchers write in their discussion of the study findings. “Because most of NP side effects due to montelukast occur in few patients within 2 weeks of drug administration, it also may have relation with the presence of some genetic polymorphisms involving modification of the normal action or metabolism of LTRAs,” they explained.

The FDA’s boxed warning for montelukast noting the risk of serious mental health side effects has renewed interest in the relationship between NPs and LTRAs, the researchers noted. However, the current study findings support previous randomized controlled trials and larger studies, and the current warnings are based mainly on pharmacovigilance studies, case series, and case reports, they said.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the retrospective design, the potential for misclassification of asthma diagnosis, the exclusion of temporary NP symptoms that might prompt LTRA discontinuation, and the inability to detect possible differences in ethnicities other than Korean, the researchers note.

However, the results suggest that adverse NP symptoms should not prevent physicians from prescribing LTRAs to selected patients with asthma. Instead, the physician should accompany the prescription with “a word of caution in case any mood changes might occur,” the investigators wrote.

“Further studies, such as randomized controlled trials, are needed to reveal the association between the use of LTRAs and the risk of NP events and/or diseases,” they concluded.


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