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Psychiatric Medications

Anti-psychotic medications--acetophenazine, chlorpromazine, chlorprothixene, clozapine, fluphenazine, haloperidol, loxapine, mesoridazine, molindone, perphenazine, pimozide, piperacetazine, trifluoperazine, triflupromazine, thioridazine, and thiothixene--lessen the psychotic symptoms and allow the person to participate more fully in life.

Anti-psychotic medications do have side effects. They include dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, and drowsiness. Some people taking the medications can experience a difficulty in urinating that ranges from mild problems beginning urination to complete inability to do so, a condition that requires prompt medical attention.

For many, these side effects lessen over several weeks as their bodies adapt to the medication. To lessen constipation, people taking antipsychotic medications can eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink at least eight glasses of water per day.

Other side effects include greater risk for sunburn, changes in white blood cell count (with clozapine), low blood pressure when standing or sitting up, akathisia, dystonia, parkinsonism, and tardive dyskinesia.

Patients with akathisia (which to some degree affects up to 75 percent of those treated with antipsychotic medications) feel restless or unable to sit still. While this side effect is difficult to treat, some medications among them propranolol, clonidine, lorazepam and diazepam can help. Those with dystonia (between one and eight percent of patients taking antipsychotic medications) feel painful, tightening spasms of the muscles, particularly those in the face and neck. This side effect is also treatable with other medications including benztropine, trihexyphenidyl, procyclidine, and diphenhydramine that act as antidotes. Parkinsonism is a group of symptoms that resemble those brought on by Parkinson's disease, including loss of facial expression, slowed movements, rigidity in arms and legs, drooling, and/or shuffling gate. It affects up to one third of those taking antipsychotic medications, and is also treatable with the medications mentioned for treatment of dystonia, with the exception of diphenhydramine. -

Tardive dyskinesia is one of the most serious side effects of anti-psychotic medications. This condition affects between 20 and 25 percent of persons taking antipsychotic drugs. Tardive dyskinesia causes involuntary muscular movements, and though it can affect any muscle group, it often affects facial muscles. There is no known cure for these involuntary movements (though some drugs, including reserpine and levodopa may help) and tardive dyskinesia may be permanent unless its onset is detected early. Psychiatrists emphasize that patients and their family members should watch closely for any signs of this condition. If it begins to develop, the physician can discontinue the medication.


 

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Clozapine, which the FDA approved for prescription in 1990, now offers hope to patients who, because they suffer from so-called "treatment resistant" schizophrenia, could not be helped before by anti-psychotic medications. Though clozapine has not been associated with tardive dyskinesia, this anti-psychotic medication does cause a serious side effect in one to two percent of the people who take it. This side effect--a blood disorder called agranulocytosis--is potentially fatal because it means the body has stopped producing the white blood cells vital to its protection from infections. To guard against development of this condition, the medicine's manufacturer requires weekly monitoring of the white blood cell count of each person taking the medication. As a result, use of clozapine and its accompanying monitoring system can be expensive.

Though anti-psychotic medications have side effects, they offer benefits that far outweigh the risks. The hallucinations and delusions of psychosis can be so terrifying that some people are willing to endure their side effects for relief from the terrors of the illness. The thought disorders can be so confusing and frightening, they isolate those afflicted with them in a lonely world from which no escape seems possible. Unable to know whether the insects they see crawling on their bodies are real, unable to control the voices that harass and degrade them, unable to express their thoughts so others can understand them, people suffering from psychotic symptoms lose their jobs, their friends and their families. Cast into a hostile world of people who are afraid of or unable to understand their disease, these people often become suicidal.

For comprehensive information on specific psychiatric medications visit the HealthyPlace.com Psychiatric Medications Pharmacology Center here.

Extensive information on Psychiatric Medications Treatment here.

Conclusion

No medication, whether an over-the-counter drug such as aspirin or a carefully prescribed psychiatric medication, is without side effects. But just as relief from the pain and discomfort of a cold is worth the potential side effect, so is the relief from the excruciating and potentially fatal symptoms of mental illnesses. Psychiatrists are trained to carefully weigh the benefits and risks of prescribing these medications.

No one should fear taking a psychiatric medication if he or she has received a complete medical and physical examination and is properly monitored for both the medicine's benefit and side effects. Not only do psychiatric medications offer relief from the terror, loneliness, and sorrow that accompany untreated mental illnesses, but they enable people to take advantage of the psychotherapy (which psychiatrists usually prescribe in tandem with medication), self-help groups, and supportive services available through their psychiatrist. Better, these medications and the other services available through mental health care enable people who have mental illness to enjoy their lives, their families and their work.

Find out about specific psychiatric medications


(c) Copyright 1993 American Psychiatric Association
Produced by the APA Joint Commission on Public Affairs and the Division of Public Affairs. This document contains the text of a pamphlet developed for educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect opinion or policy of the American Psychiatric Association.

Last Updated: 04 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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