Join/Renew for Just $16 A Year
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner
Anticholinergics are a class of drugs that block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. They are used to treat diseases like asthma, incontinence, gastrointestinal cramps, and muscular spasms. They are also prescribed for depression and sleep disorders. The drugs help to block involuntary movements of the muscles associated with these diseases. They also balance the production of dopamine and acetylcholine in the body. Anticholinergics can also be used to treat certain types of toxic poisoning, and are sometimes used as an aid to anesthesia.
Anticholinergics are only available with a doctor’s prescription. Some examples include:
There are many other types available. A doctor will select the best medication for your condition.
Anticholinergics are used to treat a variety of conditions. These include:
The drugs can also be used as muscle relaxants during surgery to assist with anesthesia. They help a patient to relax and decrease saliva secretions (Mayo Clinic).
Anticholinergics are derived from plants of the deadly nightshade family called Solanaceae. Burning of the roots, stems, and seeds of these plants releases substances called alkaloids. One of these alkaloids is the antimuscarinic agent called atropine. Inhalation of smoke from these plants has been used for hundreds of years to treat obstructive airways disease (Scullion, 2007).
Anticholinergics work by inhibiting parasympathetic nerve impulses. They do this by blocking the binding of acetylcholine to its receptor present in nerve cells. The parasympathetic nerve system is one of the two main parts of the automatic nervous system (ANS). It manages activities that occur when the body is at rest. It is often called the “rest and digest system.” The nerves in the parasympathetic system are responsible for involuntary movement of muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, urinary tract, and other parts of the body.
Anticholinergics are not usually prescribed to older people. The elderly are more sensitive to their effects compared to younger adults (Mayo Clinic). The medicines are known to cause confusion, memory loss, worsening of mental function, and other cognitive effects in the elderly.
The drugs should also not be used in people with the following conditions:
They should also not be used by people with an allergy to anticholinergic agents. Tell your doctor if you have any of the above conditions or have a history of allergies to medications in this drug class.
The medication may cause a decrease in sweating, and your body temperature may increase as a result. You should use extra caution to not become overheated during exercise, hot baths, or in a hot weather. The decrease in sweating can result in heat stroke.
Side effects depend on dose. You may or may not experience any side effects. Check with your health care professional if side effects continue or become bothersome or severe. Side effects of anticholinergics may include:
Signs of an overdose include:
An overdose of certain anticholinergics or taking them with alcohol can result in unconsciousness or even death. Seek emergency help immediately if you or someone you know may have taken an overdose.
Written by: Jacquelyn Cafasso
Medically reviewed on: Jun 04, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members save 15% every day when dining at participating Denny's restaurants.
Members can save $3 on soda + popcorn combos at Regal Cinemas. Restrictions apply.
Members can locate discounts via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder mobile app.
Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp.
Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood.
NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP Foundation.
AARP Foundation Prepaid MasterCard brought to you by Green Dot.
Nothing has been viewed