Second-generation antipsychotics: is there evidence for sex differences in pharmacokinetic and adverse effect profiles?

Drug Saf. 2006;29(7):587-98. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200629070-00004.


Six second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs), aripiprazole, clozapine, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone and ziprasidone, are currently US FDA approved. The aim of this review is to investigate whether sex differences exist for efficacy and adverse effects of these drugs.Sex-related differences have been shown in the pharmacokinetics of cytochrome P450 (CYP), with a higher activity in females for CYP3A4 and CYP2D6. However, even if there are pharmacokinetic differences between females and males, significantly higher plasma concentrations in women have been demonstrated only for olanzapine and clozapine. To date, sex differences in adverse effects have not been well studied, but some adverse effects such as weight gain, hyperprolactinaemia and cardiac effects are reported to be particularly problematic for women. Most of the studies reviewed indicate that clozapine and olanzapine are associated with greater bodyweight gain than the other atypical antipsychotics, and that serious adverse effects such as metabolic syndrome, which includes increased visceral adiposity, hyperglycaemia, hypertension and dyslipidaemia induced by SGAs, are more frequent in females. According to most studies, the risk for cardiac adverse effects induced by SGAs is the same in male and female patients. Although women are at a lower risk of sudden cardiac death, they have a higher risk of induced long QT syndrome from antiarrhythmic and, probably, antipsychotic drugs. The propensity of sexual dysfunctions is higher with conventional antipsychotics than with SGAs. Additionally, there is some evidence that female sexual dysfunction is associated with high prolactin levels; however, whether the degree of prolactin level elevation is different between female and male patients remains controversial. There is no evidence for sex differences for any of the SGAs to cause a higher rate of extrapyramidal symptoms, acute dystonia or any other movement disturbance. Knowledge of the risks and benefits associated with the use of SGAs during pregnancy and lactation is limited, although the direction of dose adjustments during pregnancy depends on the drug and the enzyme that is responsible for its metabolism. In general, data on sex differences were mostly obtained by posthoc analysis and, therefore, the conclusions that can be drawn are limited. For a better understanding of the basic mechanisms of sex differences, future studies with a primary focus on this topic are required. Data that are more specific will help determine the extent to which these differences will have implications for clinical management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperprolactinemia / chemically induced
  • Lactation
  • Long QT Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Factors
  • Torsades de Pointes / chemically induced
  • Weight Gain


  • Antipsychotic Agents