Obesity and related metabolic abnormalities during antipsychotic drug administration: mechanisms, management and research perspectives

Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002 Nov;35(6):205-19. doi: 10.1055/s-2002-36391.


Excessive body weight gain (BWG) is a common side effect of some typical and atypical antipsychotic drugs (APs). Convergent evidence suggests a hierarchy in the magnitude of BWG that may be induced by diverse agents, being very high for clozapine and olanzapine; high for quetiapine, zotepin, chlorpromazine, and thioridazine; moderate for risperidone and sertindole; and low for ziprazidone, amisulpiride, haloperidol, fluphenazine, pimozide, and molindone. BWG may be related to increased appetite that is due to drug interaction with the brain monoaminergic and cholinergic systems and to the metabolic/endocrine effects of hyperprolactinemia. Subjects with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders manifested a significantly high prevalence of diabetes, even before the introduction of atypical APs. However, clozapine and olanzapine appear to display a high propensity to induce glucose dysregulation and dyslipidemia. Sudden BWG, insulin resistance, increased appetite, and related endocrine changes also may be involved in the development of glucose intolerance and dyslipidemia in predisposed individuals. Patients should be informed of these side effects in order to prevent excessive BWG, and their blood glucose and lipids should be monitored before treatment and then at regular intervals. Nutritional advice must be given and regular physical exercise recommended. An appropriate selection of APs ought to be based on drug efficacy for specific patients and assessment of relevant risk factors such as propensity to gain weight; family or personal history of diabetes or hyperlipidemia; and elevated fasting serum glucose, lipid, or insulin levels. At present, there is no standardized pharmacological treatment for AP-induced BWG. Some studies have assessed the effects of agents such as amantadine, orlistat, metformin, nizatidine, and topiramate on AP-induced BWG. Further studies will provide tools to identify patients at high risk for obesity and metabolic abnormalities during AP administration. Excessive body weight gain (BWG), glucose intolerance, and dyslipidemia during treatment with antipsychotic drugs (APs) were reported in the late 1950s [14,101]. However, after 1990, interest in these problems increased noticeably, mainly because of the high propensity of some new atypical APs to induce these side effects (Fig.1). The APs are currently used in diverse mental disorders. Hence, excessive BWG and metabolic dysfunction are not exclusive of subjects with schizophrenia. In the case of bipolar disorders, AP-induced BWG may be additive to that induced by mood stabilizers [14,48,101]. The clinical features [2,14,24,133,139,140] and mechanisms [14,34,68,87,93,101,130] of BWG and metabolic dysfunction have been previously reviewed. In this article, we focus on a unified theory to explain these side effects, based on the interaction of APs with brain neurotransmitters involved in appetite regulation. This review comprises the following sections: 1) the clinical features of AP-induced BWG; 2) the effects of APs on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in humans and experimental animals; 3) mechanisms involved in BWG, glucose, and lipid dysregulation; 4) strategies for prevention and treatment of these side effects; and 5) research perspectives in the field. The following sources were consulted: MEDLINE, Cochrane database system, and PsychINFO. Numerous articles referred to in leading articles also were consulted. The literature on this subject has increased so rapidly that it was impossible to include all the data recently published. For the first two sections, references that illustrate current controversies in the field were selected.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Endocrine System / drug effects
  • Endocrine System / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Metabolic Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Metabolic Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Weight Gain / drug effects*


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Neurotransmitter Agents