Antipsychotic-Induced Constipation: A Review of the Pathogenesis, Clinical Diagnosis, and Treatment

CNS Drugs. 2021 Dec;35(12):1265-1274. doi: 10.1007/s40263-021-00859-0. Epub 2021 Aug 24.


Antipsychotic-induced gastrointestinal hypomotility and, in particular, its manifestation of constipation are common adverse effects in patients with schizophrenia in clinical practice. Serious complications of antipsychotic-induced constipation include ileus, ischaemic bowel disease, colon perforation, aspiration pneumonia, and bacterial septicaemia, which can be life threatening if left untreated, especially in patients prescribed clozapine. The aim of this paper is to review the latest research on the epidemiology, clinical examination methods, pathophysiology, and treatment options and preventive measures for antipsychotic-induced constipation. While clinicians are normally aware of the overall side effects caused by antipsychotics, constipation is often an under-recognized condition despite its relatively high incidence and its impact on daily living. The incidence of constipation differs among individual antipsychotics, but more than 50% of patients prescribed antipsychotics suffer from constipation. Limited fluid intake, poor dietary habits, and a sedentary lifestyle can also worsen constipation. The mechanisms of antipsychotic-induced constipation may be antagonism of cholinergic, histaminergic, and serotonergic receptors, with both parent drug and metabolite(s) contributing to the effects on gastrointestinal motility. Numerous methods, mainly divided into scale evaluations and objective examinations, are applied to evaluate antipsychotic-induced constipation; however, objective examinations have a greater ability to identify cases of gastrointestinal hypomotility since there is often an under-reporting of symptoms in subjective reporting and scale evaluation due to a higher pain threshold, an inability to express pain sensations, and a lack of symptom awareness in these patients. Antipsychotic drug-induced constipation should be closely monitored in patients receiving these medications, with timely intervention to avoid serious gastrointestinal consequences. There is currently no consensus on the efficacy of laxatives in these patients. Further in-depth studies should explore the underlying mechanisms and devise optimal therapeutic approaches to minimize constipation during antipsychotic treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Constipation / chemically induced*
  • Constipation / diagnosis
  • Constipation / physiopathology
  • Constipation / therapy
  • Humans
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*


  • Antipsychotic Agents