Strategies for Managing Schizophrenia Medication Side Effects

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Antipsychotic medications, typically used to treat schizophrenia, often have side effects. Some of the common side effects include sleepiness, sexual dysfunction, hypotension, cardiac arrhythmia and weight gain. Discuss your side effects with your doctor and come up with strategies to reduce or eliminate side effects that are interfering with your daily life.

Monitoring patients progress.

Close Monitoring

Antipsychotic medications have the potential to cause serious side effects, including extrapyramidal symptoms, such as akathisia, parkinsonism, and dystonia. Your doctor should closely monitor your reaction to the medication, especially for the first several weeks, until you are stable for at least two weeks.

So sleepy.

Switch Your Dose Time or Reduce Bedtime Dosage

Sleepiness, to the point of sedation, can be a problem with antipsychotic medications. Changing the times you take your medication or lowering your bedtime dosage may solve the problem according to a report by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Woman eating granola

Use an Adjunct Medication or Lifestyle Changes to Halt a Side Effect

Some side effects can be managed with additional medication or lifestyle changes. For example, a stool softener, the addition of fiber or laxatives, can be added if constipation is an issue; sugarless hard candy can be used to alleviate dry mouth; metformin can be added to balance weight gain.

senior woman standing on scale

Managing Weight Gain

Weight gain is more prevalent with certain antipsychotics, such as Clozaril (clozapine )and Zyprexa (olanzapine), according to a report by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other medications, such as Abilify (aripiprazole) and Geodon (ziprasidone). It may be necessary to discuss changing medications if lifestyle factors, such as adding an exercise program, do not help alleviate weight gain.

Hitting alarm clock.

Are They Temporary or Long-term Side Effects?

Some side effects last only a few weeks, for example the sedating effect of some antipsychotics may disappear over time according to a report by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Talk to your doctor about how long the side effects should last and when you should contact them if they do not lessen.

Blood pressure

Stabilizing Blood Pressure

Hypotension is a concern for some people, especially older adults and people who take blood pressure medications according to according to a report by the American Academy of Family Physicians. This can sometimes be controlled by dividing doses, decreasing dosage, or changing to a different medication.

Hiding in comforter.

Reducing Sexual Side Effects

Anywhere between 45 and 80 percent of men and 30 and 80 percent of women indicate they experience sexual side effects from antipsychotic medications according to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry. While it is an uncomfortable discussion, you should talk with your doctor as these can greatly affect quality of life. Changing to a different medication or lowering the dosage are typical ways to manage sexual side effects.

Cardiogram of a patient with cardiac arrhythmia.

Preventing Cardiac Arrhythmias and Sudden Death

Antipsychotic medications have the potential to cause cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death due to cardiac problems. Should you have any cardiac issues, discuss them with your doctor before beginning antipsychotic medications. To reduce the chance of cardiac problems, these medications should not be combined with tricyclic antidepressants, some antibiotics, and some antiarrhythmic drugs according to a report by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Mental health professional holding pill bottle

Reduce Your Dosage if Clinically Appropriate

Talk with your psychiatrist about any side effects before discontinuing your medication on your own. Stopping these medications abruptly can cause severe withdrawal symptoms according to a report published in 2012. It is best done gradually, by tapering the medication. Side effects can sometimes be managed by reducing the dosage.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.