What is Tardive Dyskinesia?
Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is a disorder of the central nervous system characterized by involuntary, repetitive muscle contractions. This disorder can affect any part of the body such as the limbs, neck, trunk, eyelids, facial muscles and vocal cords.
Research shows that approximately a third of all people who use antipsychotic drugs for several years are affected by tardive dyskinesia. Older people and people with mood disorders are more at risk. People who develop Parkinson’s disease are particularly at risk as drugs used to treat this condition are associated with tardive dyskinesia.
Diagnosing Tardive Dyskinesia
Common features of the disorder include rapid movements of the shoulders, arms, legs and trunk, tongue protrusion, grimacing, lip smacking, puckering and pursing. The eyes may also blink very quickly, and fingers move involuntary – when this occurs it seems as though the person with TD is playing an invisible piano or guitar.
During the early stages of this disorder, the movements may be very subtle (licking of lips or blinking of the eyes) and often the person affected as well as the people around him or her may not notice these symptoms. These movements may become noticeable in later stages, and is physically and socially disabling.
What Causes Tardive Dyskinesia?
The primary cause of tardive dyskinesia is the long-term use of anti-psychotic drugs. These drugs are generally prescribed to treat psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, manic depression and severe depression. Sometimes these types of drugs may also be prescribed for neurological or gastrointestinal disorders.
Symptoms of tardive dyskinesia may start up again once the medicine has been discontinued. If tardive dyskinesia is managed correctly, symptoms may improve over time. Occasionally, tardive dyskinesia may occur in people who have never even been treated with anti-psychotic drugs.
Drugs commonly associated with tardive dyskinesia
- Antipsychotic drugs such as neuroleptics or tranquillizers
- Levodopa or L-dopa, which is used to treat Parkinson's disease – however, high doses of L-dopa may actually help control tardive dyskinesia
- Tricyclic antidepressants used to treat depression and other mood disorders
- Antiemetic medicines used to control nausea and vomiting
- Other medicines that block dopamine
Help for Tardive Dyskinesia
The main aim of treatment is to stop or minimize the use of the antipsychotic medication. However, this option is not always possible as patients with psychiatric disorders cannot simply stop taking their medication. Switching to a new antipsychotic medication or lowering the dosage level to reduce movements may help some patients.
New antipsychotic medicines such as clozapine do not cause tardive dyskinesia, while benzodiazepines, adrenergic antagonists, and dopamine agonists may also be helpful. Vitamin E is also extremely beneficial for patients who have had tardive dyskinesia for less than five years.
Natural treatments such as herbs and tissue salts can also help to reduce the symptoms of tardive dyskinesia. These treatments are safe and gentle on the body’s system and can be used in conjunction with prescription medication. Use tissue salts regularly to promote systemic balance in the brain, spinal cord and the entire nervous system. Herbs such as Silybum marianus (Milk Thistle), Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion) and Verbena officinalis (Vervain or Wild Hyssop) are excellent for the liver health and help it resist damage from toxins and disease.