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tardive dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia is a movement disorder that occurs as a side effect of treatment with certain medications.

What is going on in the body? 
Neuroleptic drugs, such as haloperidol, thioridazine, and chlorpromazine, sometimes called antipsychotics or tranquillisers, are used to treat many different psychiatric conditions. These drugs help people with psychosis and agitation. They are also useful for certain other neurologic problems, nausea, dizziness, and other conditions. A side effect of these drugs is abnormal movements. This side effect usually happens after the responsible drugs have been used for a long time. The exact reason for the development of this condition is not known.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
People with this condition have uncontrollable, rhythmic movements that may include:
  • sticking out the tongue
  • grimacing
  • writhing movements of the limbs
  • puffing of the cheeks
  • puckering of the mouth or lips
  • chewing movements
  • sudden, wild movements of the limbs
This condition can involve prolonged movements that may not stop even with sleep.

What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
The use of neuroleptic drugs may cause this condition. It is considered a possible side effect of these drugs.

The primary risk of this condition is that it may not go away. The movements may be embarrassing and cause mental anguish. The more advanced the condition, the less likely it is to go away.

What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Using neuroleptic drugs only when needed may prevent some cases of this condition. Keeping the doses as low as possible and length of therapy as short as possible may prevent some cases. This condition may be reversible in the early stages, therefore, early detection through careful monitoring is very important.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
This condition is diagnosed by observation of signs and symptoms in a person taking drugs that are known to cause it.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Long-term effects can be progressive and may include difficulty eating or swallowing. There may also be effects on speech or other movements. The abnormal movements may make social interactions uncomfortable.

What are the risks to others? 
There are no risks to others. This condition is not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Primary treatment consists of slowly lowering the dose or withdrawing the drug causing this condition. Treatment with benztropine or similar drugs may be helpful.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
If a person is psychotic and the drug to control psychosis is reduced or stopped, the psychosis often gets worse. The risks of psychosis may be more dangerous than the risks of the tardive dyskinesia.

How is the condition monitored? 
To monitor the condition, it is important that people on neuroleptic drugs are seen regularly by a doctor. Affected people can also monitor for symptoms at home.

Author: Tim Allen, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 7/03/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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