BACKGROUND Although increased mortality is one of the most consistent and accepted epidemiological findings in schizophrenia, a high rate of suicide appears unable to account fully for this burden which remains poorly understood.
METHOD A cohort of 88 in-patients was followed prospectively over a 10-year period and predictors of survival sought among demographic, clinical and treatment variables.
RESULTS Over the decade, 39 of the 88 patients (44%) died, with no instances of suicide. Reduced survival was predicted by increasing age, male gender, edentulousness and time since pre-terminal withdrawal of antipsychotics; additionally, two indices of polypharmacy predicted reduced survival: maximum number of antipsychotics given concurrently (relative risk 2.46, 95% CI 1.10-5.47; P = 0.03) and absence of co-treatment with an anticholinergic (relative risk 3.33, 95% CI 0.99-11.11; P = 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS Receiving more than one antipsychotic concurrently was associated with reduced survival, in the face of little or no systematic evidence to justify the widespread use of antipsychotic polypharmacy. Conversely, over-cautious attitudes to the use of adjunctive anticholinergics may require re-evaluation.