BACKGROUND: Unwanted anticholinergic effects are both underestimated and frequently overlooked. Failure to identify adverse drug reactions (ADRs) can lead to prescribing cascades and the unnecessary use of over-the-counter products. The objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis is to explore and quantify the frequency and severity of ADRs associated with amitriptyline vs. placebo in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving adults with any indication, as well as healthy individuals.
METHODS: A systematic search in six electronic databases, forward/backward searches, manual searches, and searches for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) approval studies, will be performed. Placebo-controlled RCTs evaluating amitriptyline in any dosage, regardless of indication and without restrictions on the time and language of publication, will be included, as will healthy individuals. Studies of topical amitriptyline, combination therapies, or including < 100 participants, will be excluded. Two investigators will screen the studies independently, assess methodological quality, and extract data on design, population, intervention, and outcomes ((non-)anticholinergic ADRs, e.g., symptoms, test results, and adverse drug events (ADEs) such as falls). The primary outcome will be the frequency of anticholinergic ADRs as a binary outcome (absolute number of patients with/without anticholinergic ADRs) in amitriptyline vs. placebo groups. Anticholinergic ADRs will be defined by an experienced clinical pharmacologist, based on literature and data from Martindale: The Complete Drug Reference. Secondary outcomes will be frequency and severity of (non-)anticholinergic ADRs and ADEs. The information will be synthesized in meta-analyses and narratives. We intend to assess heterogeneity using meta-regression (for indication, outcome, and time points) and I2 statistics. Binary outcomes will be expressed as odds ratios, and continuous outcomes as standardized mean differences. Effect measures will be provided using 95% confidence intervals. We plan sensitivity analyses to assess methodological quality, outcome reporting etc., and subgroup analyses on age, dosage, and duration of treatment.
DISCUSSION: We will quantify the frequency of anticholinergic and other ADRs/ADEs in adults taking amitriptyline for any indication by comparing rates for amitriptyline vs. placebo, hence, preventing bias from disease symptoms and nocebo effects. As no standardized instrument exists to measure it, our overall estimate of anticholinergic ADRs may have limitations.
SYSTEMATIC REVIEW REGISTRATION: Submitted to PROSPERO; assignment is in progress.