How should findings on antisuicidal effects of lithium be integrated into practical treatment decisions?
- Prof.Dr.med. B. Müller-Oerlinghausen
- European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical…
The mortality of patients suffering from affective disorders is much higher than that of the general population; this excess is due to both suicides and cardiovascular disease. During long-term lithium treatment, the overall mortality has not been found to differ significantly from that of the general population but the question remains whether this lowering, if it is in fact caused by lithium, is due to a reduction in suicide frequency or cardiovascular mortality, or both. We analysed data from 827 previously studied patients and used a procedure that estimated both overall mortality and cause-specific mortalities by single-case analysis. For overall mortality, the ratio of observed deaths (among the patients) to expected deaths (in the general population) was 1.14, which is not significantly different from 1.0; this was also found in our previous analysis. In the whole patient group, comprising 5600 patient years under lithium treatment, seven suicides were observed and 1.3 expected, resulting in a standard mortality ratio of 5.22; this is significantly > 1.0, but markedly lower than that found in patients with affective disorders not given lithium. Cardiovascular mortality was not found to be higher in our patients than in the general population. In view of the fact that a placebo-controlled mortality study under long-term conditions is neither ethically nor practically feasible, our findings cannot prove definitively that long-term lithium treatment counteracts factors responsible for the excess suicide and cardiovascular mortality of affective disorders. However, our observations are compatible with such a notion.