Original Research

Clozapine use at a specialised psychiatric hospital in Johannesburg

Katherine L. Ord, Belinda Marais
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 29 | a1999 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v29i0.1999 | © 2023 Katherine L. Ord, Belinda Marais | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 October 2022 | Published: 04 April 2023

About the author(s)

Katherine L. Ord, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Belinda Marais, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: Clozapine is the gold standard medication for treatment-resistant psychosis, with robust evidence supporting its efficacy in multiple symptom domains. However, clozapine’s side effect profile contributes to its underutilisation and discontinuation.

Aim: This study aimed to explore the magnitude of clozapine use and describe factors that impact on its effective use among in-patients.

Setting: Tara Hospital, a specialised psychiatric hospital in Johannesburg.

Methods: This was a retrospective, cross-sectional file review of clozapine-treated patients admitted over the 2-year study period. Data variables included: demographics, clinical information, discharge prescription, clozapine-related side effects and details of clozapine discontinuation, where applicable.

Results: A cohort of 33.2% of patients from Tara’s biological wards received a trial of clozapine. Participants experienced anti-cholinergic clozapine-related side effects that included weight gain (79.5%), tachycardia (35.2%) and constipation (35.2%). Clozapine was discontinued in 13.7% of participants, and no life-threatening side effects or deaths occurred. Significantly more use of flupenthixol decanoate (64.3% vs. 30.7%; p = 0.0322) and anticholinergics (35.7% vs. 11.4%; p = 0.0474) occurred in the clozapine-discontinued group. Polypharmacy rates were high for psychiatric and non-psychiatric medications.

Conclusion: One-third of patients received clozapine trials, most of whom continued at discharge. Although side effects occurred frequently, life-threatening side effects did not. Clozapine monitoring protocols, side effect rating scales, pre-emptive management of side effects, lifestyle interventions and clinician education may improve outcomes of clozapine use. The use of plasma clozapine levels may be beneficial.

Contribution: This study expands our limited knowledge regarding current clozapine prescribing trends in South Africa.


clozapine; treatment-resistance; schizophrenia; side effect; treatment discontinuation; polypharmacy; South Africa.


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