antipsychotic drugs

9 Things to Know About Antipsychotic Drugs

Crucial Knowledge

Antipsychotic drugs have been a cornerstone in the treatment of various psychiatric conditions for decades. These medications can be life-changing for many, offering relief from the most severe symptoms of disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, like all potent medications, antipsychotics come with a range of potential side effects. One of the most concerning of these is tardive dyskinesia (TD), a condition that patients and healthcare professionals should be acutely aware of. In this article, we will discuss what tardive dyskinesia is, what causes it and the link between TD and antipsychotics.

Tardive Dyskinesia: Definition and Causes

Tardive dyskinesia is a severe side effect of certain prescription medications, characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements. These can include grimacing, tongue movements, lip smacking, puckering, rapid eye blinking or movements of the limbs that cannot be controlled by the person experiencing them. The condition can be socially disabling and distressing to the individual affected.

The pathophysiology of tardive dyskinesia is complex and not fully understood. However, it is widely believed to result from the prolonged use of dopamine receptor-blocking agents, which include antipsychotic drugs. These drugs disrupt the normal functioning of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter in the brain involved in motor control and a multitude of other functions. Over time, dopamine receptors may become hypersensitive to compensate for the continued blocking, leading to the symptoms of TD.

Link Between Tardive Dyskinesia and Antipsychotic Drugs

The connection between antipsychotic drugs and tardive dyskinesia is well-documented. Antipsychotics, particularly first-generation antipsychotics or typical antipsychotics, are more commonly associated with TD, although second-generation, atypical antipsychotics can also cause the condition. The risk of developing tardive dyskinesia increases with the duration and dosage of antipsychotic treatment.

9 Things to Know About Antipsychotic Drugs

1. Antipsychotics Are Used to Treat Psychosis

Psychosis is a condition that affects the way your brain processes information. Antipsychotics can help reduce or improve the symptoms of psychosis, which include delusions and hallucinations, often seen in conditions such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder.

2. Antipsychotics Are Often Prescribed for Schizophrenia

Antipsychotics are a key treatment for schizophrenia, a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. They can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with schizophrenia, managing symptoms and possibly preventing relapse.

3. Antipsychotics Are Used in Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating periods of depression and mania. Antipsychotics can be effective in treating the manic or mixed episodes of bipolar disorder and are sometimes used as a maintenance treatment to prevent swings in mood.

4. Antipsychotics Affect Neurotransmitters Like Dopamine

Antipsychotic drugs work by altering the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain, especially dopamine. By blocking dopamine receptors, antipsychotics can decrease the intensity of psychotic symptoms.

5. There Are Two Types of Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics are divided into two categories‚ÄĒtypical and atypical. Typical antipsychotics are the older class of medications, and atypical are the newer ones, often with a different side effect profile.

6. Typical and Atypical Antipsychotics Have Different Side Effects

While both classes of antipsychotics can cause side effects like TD, atypical antipsychotics tend to have a lower risk of these types of motor side effects but may cause weight gain, diabetes and cholesterol problems more than typical antipsychotics.

7. Atypical Antipsychotics Affect Other Neurotransmitters

Atypical antipsychotics tend to have a broader mechanism of action. For example, they may also influence serotonin and other neurotransmitter systems, potentially leading to different therapeutic effects and side effects.

8. People Taking Antipsychotics Need to Be Monitored for Side Effects

Due to the potential for side effects, both physical and neurological, regular monitoring by a healthcare professional is essential when a person is prescribed antipsychotics.

9. Question of Safety When Using Antipsychotics During Pregnancy

The use of antipsychotics during pregnancy is a complex issue that requires balancing the benefits to the mother with the potential risks to the developing fetus. Decisions about whether to continue antipsychotic medication during pregnancy should be made collaboratively by the patient and her healthcare provider, taking into account the specifics of each case.

Pros and Cons of Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics are a critical element in the management of severe psychiatric disorders, yet, as with any treatment, they come with trade-offs. Here are some points to consider when using antipsychotics.


  • They provide significant relief from psychotic symptoms, which can help individuals lead more stable lives.
  • Antipsychotics can prevent relapses in chronic conditions like schizophrenia, reducing hospitalization rates.
  • For many, the benefits of symptom control far outweigh the side effects, especially with the newer atypical antipsychotics.


  • The risk of side effects like tardive dyskinesia is a serious concern, more so with prolonged usage of typical antipsychotics.
  • Metabolic issues, such as weight gain, diabetes and heart-related conditions, can arise or be exacerbated.
  • The long-term effects and safety of these medications in special populations, such as during pregnancy, are not completely understood and require careful consideration.

Navigating Antipsychotics

Antipsychotic drugs are a double-edged sword with the power to control debilitating symptoms and improve quality of life, yet they also carry the risk of serious side effects like tardive dyskinesia. Both patients and healthcare professionals should work collaboratively to ensure that the benefits of antipsychotics are realized while minimizing their risks, ensuring the safety and well-being of individuals taking these medications.

Learn about some lifestyle changes you can make if you have arthritis.

Article Resources