Celexa Causes Cognitive, Heart Problems As Alzheimer’s Treatment: Study

New research that was designed to look into whether Celexa could be used to lower agitation among elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease has found that the drug may actually negatively impact their cognitive functioning and potentially cause heart problems.  

A clinical trial that ran from August 2009 until January 13 looked at the possibility of using Celexa as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that could lower agitation caused by the disorder. The findings of that study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on February 19, suggesting that the drug could be used in such a role, but that doing so could cause even more mental functioning problems for Alzheimer’s patients.

Researchers from the U.S. and Canada conducted a randomized trial on 186 patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Half of the subjects were given Celexa and half were given a placebo for nine weeks. The researchers found that patients given Celexa had decreased agitation, but they also suffered worsening cognition and a heart rhythm problem known as QT interval prolongation.

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The researchers determined that the drug was effective in lowering agitation, but the Celexa side effects limited the drug’s practical application for Alzheimer’s disease treatment.

Since the study was started, the use of drugs to affect the behavior of elderly patients, particularly those in nursing homes, has been increasingly frowned upon. Drugs used to lower agitation and in some cases sedate patients with Alzheimers and Dementia have been referred to as chemical restraints, which some increasingly view as a form of nursing home abuse.

The findings come about a year after a study published in the British Medical Journal also found that Celexa could negatively affect heart rhythm. Researchers in that study found dose-response associations of prolonged QT intervals and the use of several antidepressants, including Celexa, Lexapro, and Elavil.

Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide) was originally created in 1989 by Lundbeck, and is approved for the treatment of major depression.  However, it is often used off-label to treat other psychological disorders. Celexa is available in brand name form or as a generic in 10 mg, 20 mg and 40 mg tablets, as well as a 10 mg/5 mL oral solution.

In August 2011, the FDA issued a warning that Celexa could cause prolongation of QT intervals at high doses. The FDA warned that the condition could lead to a serious and potentially fatal abnormal heart rhythm known as Torsade de Pointes.

At the time, the Celexa label was updated to include the new warning and doctors were warned not to prescribe Celexa above 40 mg per day and not to use it at all in patients with congenital long QT syndrome. The agency also called on doctors to give patients taking Celexa more frequent electrocardiogram monitoring.

Use of Celexa during pregnancy has also been linked to a risk of serious and potentially life-threatening birth defects, including persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), heart defects, lung defects, abdominal defects and cranial defects.

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