What About Side Effects?
Antipsychotic drugs, like virtually all medications, have unwanted effects
along with their beneficial effects. During the early phases of drug treatment,
patients may be troubled by side effects such as drowsiness, restlessness, muscle
spasms, tremor, dry mouth, or blurring of vision. Most of these can be corrected
by lowering the dosage or can be controlled by other medications. Different
patients have different treatment responses and side effects to various antipsychotic
drugs. A patient may do better with one drug than another.
The long-term side effects of antipsychotic drugs may pose a considerably more
serious problem. Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is a disorder characterized by involuntary
movements most often affecting the mouth, lips, and tongue, and sometimes the
trunk or other parts of the body such as arms and legs. It occurs in about 15
to 20 percent of patients who have been receiving the older, "typical"
antipsychotic drugs for many years, but TD can also develop in patients who
have been treated with these drugs for shorter periods of time. In most cases,
the symptoms of TD are mild, and the patient may be unaware of the movements.
Antipsychotic medications developed in recent years all appear to have a much
lower risk of producing TD than the older, traditional antipsychotics.
The risk is not zero, however, and they can produce side effects
of their own such as weight gain. In addition, if given at too
high of a dose, the newer medications may lead to problems such
as social withdrawal and symptoms resembling Parkinson's disease,
a disorder that affects movement. Nevertheless, the newer antipsychotics
are asignificant advance in treatment, and their optimal use in
people with schizophrenia is a subject of much current research.
BACK TO THE LIST