Abilify (aripiprazole) is a prescription antipsychotic medication used for treating symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder (manic depression). In children, it is also used to treat the symptoms of autistic disorder and Tourette syndrome.
Abilify can cause a number of side effects, some of which can be serious. This includes weight gain, strokes, involuntary body movements, and in extreme cases, death.
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Uses of Abilify
The primary use of aripiprazole is to treat symptoms of schizophrenia in patients over the age of 13 and bipolar disorder in patients older than 10. It can also be used alongside other medications to treat major depressive disorder in adults.
Abilify can help reduce irritability in children over the age of six, leading to fewer tantrums, mood swings, and less aggression. Children over six who have Tourette’s may also take it.
Most forms of the antipsychotic medication are taken orally, but an injectable form can also be used for treating agitation related to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
How Does Abilify Work?
Otsuka America, the company that manufactures Abilify, claims the medication restores balance for patients with mental disorders, working in much the same way as a thermostat. But according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the way the medication works is still unknown.
Abilify tablets are swallowed whole, but the medication also comes in orally disintegrating tablets, which are placed on the tongue and dissolve in the mouth. (It is also available as an oral solution.) It does not need to be taken with food or liquid, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
If you forget to take a dose, you should take it immediately, unless it is nearly time to take the next dose, in which case you should skip the dose you missed instead of taking two doses simultaneously. Your doctor should check your blood sugar before you start taking Abilify and periodically during treatment.
While on Abilify, you should avoid becoming dehydrated or overheated. This might include staying inside on a hot day, keeping out of strong sunlight, and wearing light, thin clothes as much as possible. Drink lots of water while taking the drug.
For adults and children over the age of 10, the maximum recommended oral dose is 30 milligrams (mg) per day. Always follow the directions on the label, and never exceed the dosage your doctor recommends for you.
Side Effects of Abilify
Abilify has been known to cause a number of mild and severe side effects in those who take it. While some of the most common side effects are the same for adults and children, there are a few differences.
Common Abilify Side Effects
In elderly adults, Abilify can cause cerebrovascular problems, including strokes, which can be fatal. You should call your doctor immediately if you experience high fever, sweating, confusion, stiff muscles, or changes in your heart rate, pulse, or blood pressure while taking this medication. These symptoms can be an indication of a serious health condition known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome.
Another common side effect in both children and adults is tardive dyskinesia, or involuntary body movements. In some cases, this condition persists even after the patient stops taking the drug, and it may appear even after treatment has ended.
Abilify can also cause metabolic problems, including hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and diabetes. In extreme cases, these problems can cause comas and even death. Symptoms of metabolic problems include feeling thirsty, hungry, tired, or weak, experiencing an increased need to urinate, feeling sick; and feeling confused.
Other side effects include:
- Lowered blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension)
- Difficulty swallowing
- High body temperature
- Low white blood cell count
- Unusual urges, including compulsive or binge eating, compulsive shopping, gambling, and sexual urges
If you experience any serious side effects or unusual urges while taking Abilify, speak to your doctor.
Abilify and Gaining Weight
Taking Abilify can increase the body’s levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, and may raise the level of fat in your body. Since this often leads to weight gain, your doctor should periodically check your body weight while you are taking Abilify.
A 2009 study suggests that children and young adults are particularly susceptible to weight gain when taking antidepressant drugs like Abilify. In many cases, this sudden weight increase can lead to further health issues, including diabetes. Young patients could gain up to one pound per week while taking the drug, leading to significant metabolic problems.
Abilify and Mental Health
One of the more serious side effects of Abilify is a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially in children, teens, and young adults. These thoughts can also increase with elderly patients who have Alzheimer’s-related psychosis.
Abilify and other antidepressants often lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts, particularly during the first couple of months when a patient is just starting treatment. The risk of suicidal thoughts may be especially high in patients who have a personal or family history of mental health problems.
As a result, anyone taking Abilify should be closely monitored for any sudden mood or behavioral changes, especially during the first months of treatment and following any change in dosage. If you suspect your child is experiencing any changes in behavior, mood, feelings, or thoughts while taking Abilify, speak to your child’s doctor as soon as possible.
Who Should Take Abilify?
If you have an allergy to any one of the ingredients present in Abilify, including aripiprazole, you should not take the drug. Abilify should not be used for treating patients with dementia-related psychosis or suicidal thoughts, as it can lead to an increased risk of death in these patients.
Before taking Abilify, inform your doctor or healthcare provider of any medical conditions you currently have or have had in the past. This includes diabetes, high blood sugar, seizures, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, a low count of white blood cells, phenylketonuria, and stroke or heart problems. Make sure your doctor knows about any the medications you currently take, including herbal supplements, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and vitamins. Never stop taking Abilify or any other prescription drug without first seeking medical advice from your healthcare provider.
You should also tell your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or plan on becoming pregnant while taking Abilify. If you have already taken Abilify during pregnancy, consult with your doctor before discontinuing your prescription.
Since Abilify can cause a number of adverse effects, avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until you know whether the drug negatively affects you.
There is no evidence to suggest that Abilify works for children under the age of 13 with schizophrenia, children under the age of 10 with bipolar disorder, or children under the age of six with either Tourette’s disorder or autism. It is not currently known whether Abilify is a safe treatment option in these cases.
As a result of the drug’s side effects, Abilify has been at the center of numerous lawsuits. Most Abilify lawsuits hinge on the manufacturer’s inadequate marketing of the product. In 2016, a class action lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb resulted in a $19.5 million settlement. According to cases filed in 42 states, Bristol-Myers failed to properly warn patients about the possible side effects of Abilify, including an increase in weight and compulsive gambling.
The company also marketed the drug to elderly patients, even though taking Abilify can be fatal for elderly patients with dementia. Other allegations claimed that Bristol-Myers Squibb marketed the drug to children, when the FDA had not approved it for treating children.
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