INTRODUCTION: Avoidance of relapse is the main aim of long-term antipsychotic treatment in schizophrenia, yet how 'relapse' is defined in trials is not well-known.
METHODS: We conducted a systematic review of definitions of relapse in trials of continuous antipsychotic treatment compared with discontinuation, intermittent treatment or dose reduction for people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Trials were identified from previous Cochrane reviews and a new search. The quality of relapse definitions was rated in terms of reliability and clinical relevance and associations between quality of definitions and trial characteristics and outcome were explored.
RESULTS: We identified 82 reports of 81 trials which employed 54 different definitions of relapse. There were 33 definitions in the 35 trials published since 1990, with recent trials employing complex definitions often involving alternative criteria. Only ten primary definitions of relapse required the presence of psychotic symptoms in all cases, and only three specified this in combination with a measure of overall severity or functional decline. Only two definitions specified a duration longer than two days. Relapse definitions were rated as showing good reliability in 37 trials, but only seven showed good clinical relevance. Six trials with definitions that were both reliable and clinically relevant were slightly longer, but did not differ from remaining trials in other characteristics or overall or relative risk of relapse.
CONCLUSIONS: Antipsychotic trials define relapse in numerous different ways, and few definitions consistently reflect suggested indications of a clinically significant relapse.
- Antipsychotic Agents/therapeutic use
- Psychotic Disorders/drug therapy
- Reproducibility of Results
- Schizophrenia/drug therapy