Anticholinergic toxicity

Acetylcholine is a natural substance produced by the body. It plays an important role in the functioning of the nervous system. Several drugs however, reduce its activity. These drugs are said to have anticholinergic properties. While this effect is sometimes sought, it is often more of an inconvenience. Elderly patients are particularly sensitive to anticholinergic side effects. Anticholinergics are commonly used to treat a variety of conditions (allergies, insomnia, nausea, depression, and urinary disorders).

Symptoms

Anticholinergic side effects vary. Co-administration of several anticholinergic drugs may increase related adverse effects. The most common ones being:

  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Loss of balance and falls
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Accelerated heart rate

If you experience any of these adverse effects, or if you are concerned about any other symptom, do not hesitate to speak to your doctor or pharmacist. Do not stop taking your medication without consulting a health professional.

Prevention

Here are a few precaution you can take to avoid the onset of anticholinergic toxicity:

  • Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medications you take on a regular or as needed basis.
  • Do not increase the dose of any of your medications on your own. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist first.
  • Before starting a natural health product or an over-the-counter product (e.g., cold or cough medication), check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that it is safe for you to take.
  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist if you use street drugs.

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