Antipsychotic medicines: achieving the right treatment balance

11 January 2012

Up to 4% of Australians are affected by a mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder at some point in their lives, and many deal with distressing side effects such as weight gain from the antipsychotic medicines they take to treat their symptoms. While avoiding such side-effects altogether may not be possible, there are ways to make them more manageable.

According to the NPS education program on balancing the benefits and harms of antipsychotic therapy, one of the key steps is to talk with a health professional.

NPS Clinical Adviser, Dr Danielle Stowasser, says it is important to understand why you or someone you are caring for is taking an antipsychotic medicine, as well as the expected benefits and side-effects of the treatment.

“Understanding what a medicine will do and its potential side-effects means people taking antipsychotic medicines — and their carers — can have more control over their situation and work towards the best long term outcomes,” says Dr Stowasser. “It’s all about two way communication with your doctor.”

Achieving this treatment balance requires co-operation from patients, carers, and their GP or specialist. It often involves trial and error over a period of time.

“By monitoring the type and severity of side effects you experience with different medicines, and sharing this information with your doctor, you can work together to find the right treatment balance,” says Dr Stowasser.

With antipsychotic medicines, the benefits are not always obvious immediately. This — together with the burden of side effects, such as sedation and movement disorders — can prompt some people to stop taking their medicines regularly or stop altogether.

“If you are thinking about stopping your antipsychotic medicine or are taking them irregularly, it’s best to contact your health professional to talk about ways to make taking your medicines easier,” says Dr Stowasser.

“Stopping treatment suddenly can cause setbacks such as a return of symptoms and physical and/or mental withdrawal effects.”

Changing to a healthier lifestyle is good for the wellbeing of anyone on antipsychotic therapy. This includes exercising regularly, using relaxation techniques to manage stress, having a good diet and stopping smoking.

For more information about antipsychotic therapy, including questions to ask your health professional and access to other resources, visit www.nps.org.au/mental_health_medicines


ENDS

Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests.We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.