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Drugs to Treat Mental Illness

What Drugs Treat Psychotic Disorders? continued...

Many side effects of anti-psychotic drugs are mild and many go away after the first few weeks of treatment. Common side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness when changing positions
  • Decrease in sexual interest or ability
  • Problems with menstrual periods
  • Skin rashes or skin sensitivity to the sun
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Slowing down of movement and speech
  • Shuffling walk
  • Menstrual irregularities in women

There are, however, a few serious side effects that are possible, especially with long-term use of anti-psychotic medications. These side effects include:

  • Tardive dyskinesia: This is a movement disorder that results in unusual and uncontrollable movements, usually of the tongue and face (such as sticking out the tongue and smacking the lips), and sometimes jerking and twisting movements of other parts of the body.
  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome: This is a potentially fatal disorder characterized by severe muscle rigidity (stiffening), fever, sweating, high blood pressure, delirium, and sometimes coma.
  • Agranulocytosis: This is a condition marked by a sharp decrease in the number of infection-fighting white blood cells. This condition can leave the person prone to infection and at greater risk of death. Agranulocytosis has been particularly linked with Clozaril, where it may occur in 1 in 100 patients. People taking Clozaril must have regular blood tests to closely monitor their white blood cell count.  However, all antipsychotics carry a warning label from the FDA noting that as a class they have a risk for lowering someone's white blood cell count.
  • Changes in Blood Sugar and Cholesterol: Some atypical anti-psychotics can cause increases in blood sugar (which could eventually lead to diabetes) and blood lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides. Periodic blood tests are necessary to monitor these factors.

If antipsychotic drug side effects are particularly troublesome, your doctor may change medications or dosages or sometimes add additional medicines to counteract side effects like weight gain or high blood lipids. The newer atypical antipsychotic medications appear to be much better tolerated, with fewer side effects such as movement disorders or drowsiness. They do, though, require monitoring for weight and metabolic risks, which appear to be higher than with older-generation anti-psychotics.

What Drugs Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Another group of drugs called stimulants may be used for certain disorders, primarily attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The most commonly used stimulants include Ritalin, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Vyvance.

The FDA requires all ADHD drugs to include patient medication guides that detail serious outcomes from the use of the drugs, including a slightly higher risk of stroke, heart attack and sudden death, and psychiatric problems like becoming manic or psychotic.

The agency has also issued warnings that children and teens who take the non-stimulant ADHD drug atomoxetine (Strattera) may have suicidal thoughts.

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