Antipsychotics are a type of medication, used to treat a variety of mental health conditions. Their main uses are for mental illnesses that include psychotic symptoms, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But they’re also used for other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.

Antipsychotics work by impacting chemical messengers—called neurotransmitters—used to communicate between brain cells. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter affected by these medications. If parts of the dopamine system become overactive, they seem to play a part in producing hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder. Antipsychotics block some of the receptors that react to dopamine.

Examples of antipsychotics include:

Generic nameBrand name(s)
ChlorpromazineThorazine, Largactil
FluphenazineProlixin, Modecate, Moditen
PerphenazineTrilafon, Etrafon, Triavil, Triptafen
ProchlorperazineCompazine, Compro, Darbazine, Neo Darbazine
TrifluoperazineStelazine, Stelbid

These medications are sometimes called “typical antipsychotics.” There is also another class of medications called “atypical antipsychotics,” or “second-generation antipsychotics.” Atypical antipsychotics are newer, and they tend to be used more commonly nowadays because they are less likely to cause side effects. First-generation antipsychotics like the ones listed here are generally used after someone has tried other medications with no success.

Side effects

Like all medications, antipsychotics can cause side effects. Finding the right treatment for a mental health condition is a balancing act—you and your doctor work together to weigh the potential benefits of a medication against the potential side-effects. Medications affect each person differently, so this usually involves a lot of trial and error.

Common side-effects of antipsychotics include:

  • Stiffness and shakiness
  • Feeling sluggish and slow in your thinking
  • Uncomfortable restlessness
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Breast swelling or tenderness
  • Weight gain
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety

Less common side effects include:

  • Involuntary body movements or facial tics (tardive dyskinesia and other movement disorders)
  • Decreased white blood cell production/reduced immune function
  • Pancreatitis
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Diabetes

If you experience any of these symptoms while taking an antipsychotic medication, speak with your doctor. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best way forward.

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