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What Are the Side Effects of Antipsychotics?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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There are several side effects of antipsychotics, some more common than others. Ranging in severity from sleepiness to long-term health issues, these side effects can occur with both typical and atypical medications. These reactions can make treating mental illness difficult.

Some of the most common side effects of antipsychotics include sensitivity to light and ultraviolet rays, dizziness and drowsiness. Others include blurred vision, changes in a woman's menstrual cycle and increased heart rate. These effects are most common in the first few weeks of beginning a medication and tend to go away as a patient's body gets used to the drug. Side effects that do not dissipate can typically be managed with lifestyle changes or additional medication.

Taking antipsychotic medications can result in increased nasal congestion, especially in people already suffering from allergies. These drugs can also increase the chances of a patient experiencing increased or decreased sex drive, and men may experience premature ejaculation. Patients may also have difficulty urinating or defecating. These side effects may be treated with other medications depending on the health of the patient.

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More serious side effects of antipsychotics include gaining weight quickly, high cholesterol and the development of diabetes. These medications can also affect a patient's muscles. In some cases, a person taking an antipsychotic medication may experience restless leg syndrome, repetitive muscle movement, stiffness and spasms in the muscles. Studies have found that nearly 5 percent of people taking these drugs for a long period of time develop tardive dyskineia (TD), a syndrome that causes a person to experience uncontrollable movements.

These side effects of antipsychotics vary among the different drugs. Typical antispychotics, including chlorpromazine, haloperidol, perphenazine and fluphenazine, tend to have higher incidences of these reactions. In rare cases, typical antipsychotics may cause neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a possibly fatal health issue that affects the muscles of the body and the body's ability to regulate its internal temperature. This syndrome may also cause hallucinations.

Atypical antipsychotics include risperidone, olanzapine, and paliperidone. While these drugs can cause the same issues as typical antipsychotics, the problems tend to occur less often and may be easier to manage. Studies have found, however, that both atypical and typical antipsychotics can increase fatalities among older patients.

The side effects of antipsychotics are often minimal compared to the benefits these drugs can provide. Despite this, researchers have found that the side effects patients experience while taking these medications are one of the primary reasons those with mental health issues discontinue treatment. Before stopping any drug regime, patients should discuss side effects with their doctors; stopping antipsychotic medications suddenly can cause even worse health issues than the side effects that may be caused by taking them.

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