Understanding Tardive Dyskinesia

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What Is Tardive Dyskinesia?

Tardive dyskinesia is a movement disorder distinguished by a range of involuntary and repetitive muscle movements in the face, neck, arms, and legs.

This neurological disorder is mainly caused by the ongoing use of antipsychotics prescribed to treat mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, as well as other psychiatric medications that block dopamine receptors in the brain.

The symptoms of tardive dyskinesia can negatively affect daily function, emotional wellness, and quality of life. Although the research for treating tardive dyskinesia is relatively sparse and prevention is still key, there may be treatment options to carefully consider on an individual basis. There may also be some nonpharmaceutical strategies to help make day-to-day living more comfortable.

Symptoms of Tardive Dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia affects the nervous system, and symptoms can include abnormal, involuntary repetitive movements to the following areas of the body:

Face/Head

  • Rapid eye blinking, squinting
  • Lip smacking, puckering, or pursing
  • Tongue movements (sticking out, twisting)
  • Mouth movements (grimacing, frowning)
  • Jaw clenching, chewing motions

Body

  • Neck twisting
  • Rocking, shifting, and swaying of torso
  • Twisting, twitching, and jerking in arms, hands, legs, and feet

Who Is Affected by Tardive Dyskinesia?

It is estimated that tardive dyskinesia affects at least 500,000 people in the United States.

Individuals more at risk of developing tardive dyskinesia include those using long-term antipsychotic medications (it is thought that second-generation agents have a lower risk than first-generation); being female; older age; African American ethnicity; having negative symptoms of schizophrenia; and having a preexisting mood disorder.

Treatment for Tardive Dyskinesia

Although there have been advances in treatment for tardive dyskinesia, there is still more research to be done on the mechanism and effectiveness of therapies. Overall, each individual responds to treatment differently and treatment options should be carefully considered on an individual basis.

Some research has supported nonpharmaceutical options such as taking Ginko biloba and addressing lifestyle factors such as smoking, substance use, stress, and exercise.

Editorial Sources & Fact-Checking

Medically Reviewed by Allison Young, MD (June 16, 2022)
Originally posted July 14, 2022

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