Clinical characteristics influencing age at onset in psychotic disorders

Dost Ongür, Lewei Lin, Bruce M Cohen
Comprehensive Psychiatry 2009, 50 (1): 13-9

BACKGROUND: Age at onset of psychosis may carry clinical significance across psychotic disorders and appears to be associated with specific genetic abnormalities.

METHODS: We used the Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) to examine clinical characteristics contributing to age at onset variability in patients with schizophrenia (n = 80), schizoaffective disorder (n = 61), and bipolar disorder with psychotic features (n = 92).

RESULTS: Age at onset did not differ across DSM-IV diagnostic groups. Multiple regression analyses revealed that comorbid lifetime cannabis, but not alcohol, abuse/dependence was associated with a statistically significant 3 years earlier age at onset of psychosis. Patients developed cannabis abuse/dependence an additional 3 years before psychosis. Patients with comorbid lifetime panic disorder also had a 4-year earlier age at onset of psychosis. The effects of panic disorder and cannabis abuse/dependence were independent of one another.

CONCLUSIONS: Early onset of psychosis, regardless of the specific DSM-IV diagnosis, is characterized by differential clinical features, notably a history of lifetime cannabis abuse/dependence. Panic disorder comorbidity is also associated with earlier age at onset of psychosis. Our findings indicate that examination of clinical and biological characteristics of patients with psychosis regardless of DSM-IV diagnosis can uncover relevant information.

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