Rivastigmine for Alzheimer's disease

Jacqueline Birks, John Grimley Evans, Vasso Iakovidou, Magda Tsolaki, Francesca E Holt
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009 April 15, (2): CD001191

BACKGROUND: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the commonest cause of dementia affecting older people. One of the therapeutic strategies aimed at ameliorating the clinical manifestations of Alzheimer's disease is to enhance cholinergic neurotransmission in relevant parts of the brain by the use of cholinesterase inhibitors to delay the breakdown of acetylcholine released into synaptic clefts. Tacrine, the first of the cholinesterase inhibitors to undergo extensive trials for this purpose, was associated with significant adverse effects including hepatotoxicity. Other cholinesterase inhibitors, including rivastigmine, with superior properties in terms of specificity of action and low risk of adverse effects, have now been introduced. Rivastigmine has received approval for use in 60 countries including all member states of the European Union and the USA.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the clinical efficacy and safety of rivastigmine for patients with dementia of Alzheimer's type.

SEARCH STRATEGY: The Specialized Register of the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group (CDCIG), The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL and LILACS were searched on 27 March 2008 using the terms: Rivastigmine OR exelon OR ENA OR "SDZ ENA 713" . The CDCIG Specialized Register contains records from all major health care databases (The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, LILACS) as well as from many clinical trials registries and grey literature sources.

SELECTION CRITERIA: All unconfounded, double-blind, randomized trials in which treatment with rivastigmine was administered to patients with dementia of the Alzheimer's type for more than two weeks and its effects compared with those of placebo in a parallel group of patients.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: One reviewer (JSB) applied study selection criteria, assessed the quality of studies and extracted data.

MAIN RESULTS: Nine trials, involving 4775 participants, were included in the analyses. Use of rivastigmine in high doses was associated with statistically significant benefits on several measures. High-dose rivastigmine (6 to 12 mg daily) was associated with a two-point improvement in cognitive function on the ADAS-Cog score compared with placebo (weighted mean difference -1.99, 95% confidence interval -2.49 to -1.50, on an intention-to-treat basis) and a 2.2 point improvement in activities of daily living assessed on the Progressive Deterioration Scale (weighted mean difference -2.15, 95% confidence interval -3.16 to -1.13, on an intention-to-treat basis) at 26 weeks. At lower doses (4 mg daily or lower) differences were in the same direction but were statistically significant only for cognitive function. There were statistically significantly higher numbers of events of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, anorexia, headache, syncope, abdominal pain and dizziness among patients taking high-dose rivastigmine than among those taking placebo. There was some evidence that adverse events might be less common with more frequent, smaller doses of rivastigmine. The 2008 update includes a new study testing two types of rivastigmine transdermal patch, one delivering a higher dose than previously tested (17.4 mg/day) and a smaller patch delivering 9.6 mg/day. The efficacy of the smaller patch was not significantly different compared with the capsules of similar daily dose, but was associated with significantly fewer adverse events of nausea, vomiting, dizziness and asthenia. The efficacy of the larger patch was not significantly different compared with the smaller patch, but the smaller patch was associated with significantly fewer adverse events of nausea, vomiting, weight loss and dizziness. There appears to be advantages associated with the smaller patch compared with both the higher dose patch and the 6-12 mg/day capsules.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Rivastigmine appears to be beneficial for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. In comparisons with placebo, improvements were seen in the rate of decline of cognitive function, activities of daily living, and severity of dementia with daily doses of 6 to 12 mg. Adverse events were consistent with the cholinergic actions of the drug. A transdermal patch has been tested in one trial, and there is evidence that the lower dose smaller patch is associated with fewer side effects than the capsules or the higher dose larger patch and has comparable efficacy to both. This review has not examined economic data.

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