If you or a loved one is about to start taking new medication, it is always important to understand what the drugs are being used for and how they can help, what the different types available are, how long they should be taken, and what side effects could be an issue. This is particularly true of antipsychotic medication, no matter the age of the patient. Read on for the lowdown on what you need to know about these types of drugs today.
What Are Antipsychotic Medications and How Can They Help?
Antipsychotic drugs are a group of medications that are prescribed for a variety of serious mental health conditions including psychosis (when patients lose contact with reality and may experience delusions and/or hallucinations) and other emotional and mental difficulties.
People who have conditions such as mood disorders or a bipolar diagnosis are often prescribed these types of medications. The drugs are also sometimes used (usually in lower doses) to help treat pain that can occur due to restlessness during palliative care, as well as intractable hiccoughs, problems with nausea and balance, and severe anxiety.
Antipsychotic medications are also regularly used, in combination with other medications, to treat things such as dementia, delirium, severe depression, schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), eating disorders, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While antipsychotics do not cure these types of conditions, they can help to relieve symptoms and thereby improve a patient’s quality of life. The meds work by reducing or increasing the effect of neurotransmitters (the information-transferring transmitters) in the brain, such as dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and noradrenaline. This in turn, helps to regulate levels back to a more optimum point, and can change behavior, mood, and emotions. In particular, dopamine is the main chemical that antipsychotic medications have an effect on.
Classified as major tranquilizers, antipsychotics come in two groups: there are the older medications which were developed before the 1970s, and which are known as “typical” antipsychotics; and there are the newer drugs, referred to as “atypical” antipsychotics. One of the main advantages of the newer medications is that they can work to better some patient symptoms that the typical meds did not, such as lowered motivation or lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
Antipsychotics can come in different forms. Most often patients will be prescribed the medication in an oral form (tablets, capsules or liquid), but occasionally they can be given as depot injections (a slow-release option).
Length of Treatment
The amount of time that patients will be advised to stay on antipsychotic drugs does, like most things, depend on a number of factors and vary from person to person. While some patients will only need to take this type of medication for a few weeks, others (such as those with schizophrenia) may need to keep taking the drugs over the long term to prevent, limit, or reduce the severity of relapses.
It is important for patients to speak with their doctor before they stop taking an antipsychotic. It is usually necessary for these types of drugs to be slowly stopped over a length of time (weeks, typically), rather than straight away. If people abruptly stop taking antipsychotics, they can become unwell very soon after. Most doctors will advise their patients to reduce medication slowly and to test how the lower dose affects symptoms as they go.
Potential Side Effects
There are many different side effects which can come about due to antipsychotic medications, and unfortunately they can be quite troublesome and will need to be weighed up against the symptoms of a mental illness or other condition.
As well, keep in mind that, as with all drugs, the side effects that one person experiences might not be noticed at all by someone else, as every person reacts differently. Different drugs have different potential side effects too. As such, it pays to try multiple medicines to find the one that best suits each individual.
Below is a list of some of the most common side effects which patients can experience, however it is important to read the full list of possible problems listed on the information leaflet enclosed with a medication for comprehensive details.
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Drowsiness (sedation), a sluggish feeling and/or slowed thinking
- Sexual dysfunction
- Low blood pressure
- Parkinsonism (similar symptoms to Parkinson’s disease, such as tremors and muscle stiffness)
- Tardive dyskinesia (the continual movement of the tongue, mouth and/or jaw, or sometimes of the arms or legs)
- Dystonia (abnormal facial or body movements)
If you or a loved one develops a severe, adverse reaction to a medication that results in permanent injury or even death, you may want to consider speaking with a lawyer about potential rights to make a claim.