Tardive akathisia: an analysis of clinical features and response to open therapeutic trials

Mov Disord. 1989;4(2):157-75. doi: 10.1002/mds.870040208.


In recent years, there has been increasing recognition that akathisia occurs not only as an acute, self-limited complication of dopamine (DA) antagonist treatment, but also as a persistent form, called tardive akathisia. We represent a retrospective analysis of clinical features and therapeutic trials in 52 cases of this disorder. Although most patients developed this disorder after years of DA antagonist treatment (mean = 4.5 years), a significant proportion (34%) developed it within 1 year. The characteristic motor features included frequent, complex stereotyped movements. The legs were most frequently involved, showing marching in place and crossing/uncrossing. Trunk rocking, respiratory grunting and moaning, and complex hand movements such as face rubbing or scratching also occurred. In the 26 patients who were able to discontinue DA antagonists, akathisia persisted for years (mean = 2.7 years, range of 0.3-7 years) until abatement of symptoms or last follow-up. Younger patients were more likely to have remission or therapeutic suppression of akathisia at follow-up. In our experience, the catecholamine-depleting drugs reserpine and tetrabenazine were the most effective agents for suppressing symptoms, producing improvement in 87 and 58% of patients treated, respectively. However, improvement was limited in many patients, and at last follow-up only 33% of patients had complete abatement of their symptoms. In conclusion, tardive akathisia is a particularly disabling form of tardive dyskinesia, frequently persistent for years and often resistant to therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Akathisia, Drug-Induced*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Dyskinesia, Drug-Induced / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills / drug effects
  • Prognosis
  • Psychomotor Agitation / drug therapy
  • Receptors, Dopamine / drug effects*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stereotyped Behavior / drug effects


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine