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Taking a lot of medications is a very real problem among persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. One pharmacy that only provides services to persons with IDD indicates their average number of medications per person is in double digits! No person can consume that many medications without experiencing side effects, drug:drug interactions or drug:food interactions.

Oftentimes, the medications that are frequently prescribed are anti- psychotic medications. The first-generation anti-psychotic medications consist of drugs like Thorazine (chlorpromazine), Haldol (haloperidol) and Mellaril (thioridazine) among others. These medications have a nasty side effect of Tardive Dyskinesia or TD. TD is a very unpleasant side effect and can certainly bring social attention and embarrassment, but it generally has little effect on mortality. The second-generation anti-psychotic medications such as Clozaril (clozapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine), Risperdal (risperidone) and Abilify (aripiprazole) have a different side effect called Metabolic Syndrome. Unlike TD, Metabolic Syndrome can and does kill people.

Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of disease processes. It consists of Diabetes Mellitus, Hypertension, Obesity, elevated Triglycerides and decreased HDL cholesterol. These diseases may be controlled, but often aren’t, due to either lack of awareness by health care providers, lack of aggressive treatment for persons with IDD, lack of ability to purchase high quality foods and plan nutritious meals or lack of compliance among persons.

It is critical that Metabolic Syndrome be managed and controlled to the best of our ability. Poorly controlled Diabetes Mellitus can cause blindness, kidney disease and failure, poor wound healing and loss of limbs. Hypertension that is not well managed can also cause kidney failure along with other serious and life-threatening conditions like aneurysms, strokes and heart failure. Obesity contributes to heart disease, the development of hypertension and diabetes and social unacceptance. Poor regulation of cholesterol and triglycerides increases stroke and heart attack risk.

It is critical that Metabolic Syndrome be managed and controlled to the best of our ability.

Laboratory testing to monitor blood glucose, lipids, kidney function and other key indicators must be performed regularly to allow for early intervention when a problem is first identified. Face-to-face assessments with nurses in the community and the physician or a physician extender must occur regularly to help prevent increased death and other diseases.

Early recognition of Metabolic Syndrome may save lives. All providers of services should remember that although the 2nd generation anti-psychotics are safer than the 1st generation, they are not without their own set of issues. Quite often these medications significantly improve the quality of life for a person with IDD, but the potential side effects must be recognized and managed.

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