Children who take a certain type of medications for mood and behavior disorders may be three times more likely to develop the chronic disease Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.
The link is seen in kids and young adults taking "atypical antipsychotics," a class of drugs prescribed to treat mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Such medications include risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), aripiprazole (Abilify) and olanzapine (Zyprexa).
The researchers warned the risk was seen even in younger children studied.
"Risk was elevated during the first year of antipsychotic use, increased with increasing cumulative dose, and was present for children younger than 18 years of age," wrote the researchers in the study, published Aug 22 in JAMA Psychiatry.
Previous studies have linked this drug class and diabetes risk in adults on the medications, but the researchers wanted to see if the same held true in kids.
The new study involved more than 29,000 young people between ages 6 and 24 who were prescribed the drugs for attention, behavioral and mood disorders. They were compared to more than 14,400 children who were taking other mental health medications including mood stabilizers (lithium), antidepressants, stimulant medications and benzodiazepines.
They were tracked for 12 years. Of all subjects, the researchers found 106 young people were diagnosed with and treated for Type 2 diabetes.
In addition to the three-fold risk increase for diabetes, the researchers found those same diabetes odds persisted even one full year after stopping treatment. The overall rates were still low, but the study showed the increased risk was not simply due to chance.
"That's why this study had to be so large, in order to detect clinically meaningful differences in the risk of Type 2 diabetes, a relatively uncommon, but serious condition for children and youth," study author Dr. Wayne A. Ray, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said in a statement.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body cannot correctly use a hormone called insulin, which helps regulate the amount of sugar in blood, known as glucose.
Nearly 26 million people have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, with an estimated one in 400 children and adolescents affected by the disease.
Typical risk factors include weight, fat distribution, inactivity, family history and race, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"This is particularly important for high-risk children, for example, those with elevated weight," Ray said of the findings. "Children should be monitored carefully for metabolic effects predisposing them to diabetes, and use of the drug should be at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time."
In 2011, a study in Pediatrics found kids taking antipsychotics were four times more likely to develop diabetes than their counterparts not taking the medication, Reuters reported. That year, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel urged the agency to monitor weight gain and metabolic disease risk in kids taking the drugs.
Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told HealthDay that the study might lead doctors and parents to question antipsychotic prescriptions for conditions other than schizohprenia and psychosis, for which they are currently approved treatments. People should be careful and assess the risk and benefits for this type of "off-label" prescribing, he said.
"There aren't many antipsychotic medications that are FDA-approved for use in children," said Duckworth. "You want to make sure you've reviewed all the alternative medicines and alternative strategies."