Management of common adverse effects of antipsychotic medications

World Psychiatry. 2018 Oct;17(3):341-356. doi: 10.1002/wps.20567.


The benefits of antipsychotic medications are sometimes obscured by their adverse effects. These effects range from relatively minor tolerability issues (e.g., mild sedation or dry mouth) to very unpleasant (e.g., constipation, akathisia, sexual dysfunction) to painful (e.g., acute dystonias) to disfiguring (e.g., weight gain, tardive dyskinesia) to life-threatening (e.g., myocarditis, agranulocytosis). Importantly, adverse effect profiles are specific to each antipsychotic medication and do not neatly fit into first- and second-generation classifications. This paper reviews management strategies for the most frequent side effects and identifies common principles intended to optimize net antipsychotic benefits. Only use antipsychotics if the indication is clear; only continue antipsychotics if a benefit is discernible. If an antipsychotic is providing substantial benefit, and the adverse effect is not life-threatening, then the first management choice is to lower the dose or adjust the dosing schedule. The next option is to change the antipsychotic; this is often reasonable unless the risk of relapse is high. In some instances, behavioral interventions can be tried. Finally, concomitant medications, though generally not desirable, are necessary in many instances and can provide considerable relief. Among concomitant medication strategies, anticholinergic medications for dystonias and parkinsonism are often effective; beta-blockers and anticholinergic medications are useful for akathisia; and metformin may lead to slight to moderate weight loss. Anticholinergic drops applied sublingually reduce sialorrhea. Usual medications are effective for constipation or dyslipidemias. The clinical utility of recently approved treatments for tardive dyskinesia, valbenazine and deutetrabenazine, is unclear.

Keywords: Antipsychotics; adverse effects; agranulocytosis; akathisia; dystonias; impulse control disorders; metabolic effects; neuroleptic malignant syndrome; orthostatic hypotension; parkinsonism; schizophrenia; sedation; sexual function; sialorrhea; tardive dyskinesia.

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