Antipsychotic Medication Side Effects

Everyone prescribed medication should:

  • Learn how to identify side effects
  • Learn what to do for the side effects
  • Learn how to discuss side effects with their doctor
  • Expect their doctor to take action to help reduce their discomfort
  • Be able to discuss alternative medications with their physician

As with any medication, it is important to discuss side effects with your physician and not alter your medication unless you consult with them.

One goal of treatment should be freedom from side effects. Many patients are able to achieve this with their physician's help.

Side effects that may occur for some people include:

1. Side effects of movement

There are several potential side effects associated with movement. In general these are more common with the Typical Antipsychotics. Clients may experience:

  • Tremor
  • Slowed down movements
  • Muscle stiffness and rigidity
  • Severe restlessness
  • Sudden muscle cramps
  • Minor involuntary movements or tics

These side effects are helped by changing to a different medication, decreasing the dose of the medication, or by using side effect medications (.e.g, benztropine or procyclidine).

2. Anticholinergic side effects

These side effects are caused because the medications block the neurotransmitter acetlycholine.  Tips for dealing with these side effects are indicated in brackets.

  • Dry mouth (use sugarless gum, ice chips, lots of water)
  • Blurry vision (usually improves over time)
  • Constipation (add fibre like fruits and vegetables and drink lots of water 6-8 glasses a day)
  • Sedation (take the medication at night, improve sleep schedule, increase physical and mental activity during the day)

These side effects are most commonly associated with certain Typical Antipsychotics.

3. Sexual side effects

  • Reduced libido (desire)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Interference with menstrual cycle
  • Swollen breast tissue
  • Milk production

These side effects are fully reversible and can be helped by changing to a different drug, or by decreasing the dose of the medication. Most common with Typical Antipsychotics and risperidone and paliperidone.

Metabolic side effects

  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Elevated blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides
  • Increased blood pressure

The presence of these side effects over time can place an individual at increased risk of developing life limiting illnesses such as coronary heart disease and diabetes.

These side effects are most commonly associated with certain Atypical Antipsychotics such as clozapine, olanzapine and quetiapine, though other drugs may cause these as well.

Treatment is typically based in prevention - ensuring an individual takes steps to adopt a healthy lifestyle including,

  • Maintain a balanced healthy diet
  • Undertake regular exercise (seek advice before commencing)
  • See your family physician for a health check annually

It is important for you to monitor your weight, and for your doctor to review your blood pressure and blood for changes especially when first starting medication or when changes are made to your prescription.