Common medications used in neuro-rehabilitation units to manage symptoms may delay recovery from brain or spinal injuries, suggest researchers in a new study.

The study, published recently in the journal Brain Injury, examined 52 patients with an acquired brain or spinal injury at a neuro-rehabilitative unit.

According to a news release from the University of East Anglia (UEA), patients with a higher level of anticholinergic drugs in their system—known as the anticholinergic drug burden, or ACB—had an average longer length of stay at the neuro-rehabilitative unit.

Per the release, medications with anticholinergic properties are used to treat common conditions such as bladder problems, depression, and insomnia. Their side effects include temporary cognitive impairment, dizziness, and confusion.

For brain or spinal-injured patients, these medications are used frequently to manage symptoms such as urinary incontinence to pain.

The release explains that the study results showed that the change in ACB correlated directly to the length of hospital stay. A higher ACB score on discharge, compared with on admission, was associated with a longer stay in hospital, and a lower ACB on discharge saw on average a shorter stay. The team cautioned, however, that as an observational study, cause-and-effect relationship cannot be implied.

Chris Fox, MD, professor of clinical psychiatry at the Norwich Medical School at UEA and lead author on the paper, says in the release that, “This pilot study demonstrates the need for larger studies to confirm the results and need for further investigation into what long-term effects these common medications are having on the recovery of these patients.”

“While medications with ACB are often needed to treat common complications of brain or spinal cord injuries, cognitive impairment due to the medication may adversely affect a patient’s ability to engage in the rehabilitation process, potentially increasing their length of stay in hospital,” he adds in the release.

Length of patient stay is used a performance indicator for hospitals, with financial incentives in place for units to discharge patients as soon as is safe, per the release.

[Source(s): University of East Anglia, Science Daily]