NYMC Faculty Publications

An Evidence-Based Update on Anticholinergic Use for Drug-Induced Movement Disorders

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CNS Drugs

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Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences


Drug-induced movement disorders (DIMDs) are associated with use of dopamine receptor blocking agents (DRBAs), including antipsychotics. The most common forms are drug-induced parkinsonism (DIP), dystonia, akathisia, and tardive dyskinesia (TD). Although rare, neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) is a potentially life-threatening consequence of DRBA exposure. Recommendations for anticholinergic use in patients with DIMDs were developed on the basis of a roundtable discussion with healthcare professionals with extensive expertise in DIMD management, along with a comprehensive literature review. The roundtable agreed that "extrapyramidal symptoms" is a non-specific term that encompasses a range of abnormal movements. As such, it contributes to a misconception that all DIMDs can be treated in the same way, potentially leading to the misuse and overprescribing of anticholinergics. DIMDs are neurobiologically and clinically distinct, with different treatment paradigms and varying levels of evidence for anticholinergic use. Whereas evidence indicates anticholinergics can be effective for DIP and dystonia, they are not recommended for TD, akathisia, or NMS; nor are they supported for preventing DIMDs except in individuals at high risk for acute dystonia. Anticholinergics may induce serious peripheral adverse effects (e.g., urinary retention) and central effects (e.g., impaired cognition), all of which can be highly concerning especially in older adults. Appropriate use of anticholinergics therefore requires careful consideration of the evidence for efficacy (e.g., supportive for DIP but not TD) and the risks for serious adverse events. If used, anticholinergic medications should be prescribed at the lowest effective dose and for limited periods of time. When discontinued, they should be tapered gradually.