Abilify (Aripiprazole) is an atypical antipsychotic medication that functions primarily to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It also has also been approved to help treat major depression, tic disorders, as well as autism-related irritability. This is a relatively new drug and it has quickly become among the most popular drugs in the United States. It ranks number one for overall sales, and fourth overall for most monthly prescriptions over the past year.
It is very similar to other atypical antipsychotics in regards to having therapeutic benefits. In comparison to typical “first-generation” antipsychotics, this drug tends to yield less extrapyramidal side effects, but increased amounts of dizziness. In regards to effectiveness at treating symptoms, it is considered average when compared to other antipsychotics. However, it does tend to have superior tolerability than most antipsychotics.
Since this is a relatively newer drug for many conditions, the full long term effects aren’t well documented. Most assume that long term effects will be similar to related “atypical” second-generation antipsychotics. Although some believe this drug is above-average for an antipsychotic medication, it still can cause some unwanted side effects.
Factors that influence Abilify side effects
There are always going to be factors that are thought to influence the occurrence and severity of side effects.
1. Individual Variation
Since everyone is different, side effects from Abilify may plague on person, while another person won’t notice anything. Although most people notice some minor side effects when they take a drug, others may not notice much of anything. How you respond to a specific drug will largely be unique to you as an individual. Physiological differences contribute to differing responses among users of the drug.
How much of the drug were you taking? Side effects may be influenced by the dose you are taking. Certain drugs work differently at lower doses than at higher ones. In general, it is thought that the lower the dosage, the less likely a person is to exhibit powerful side effects. The more a person increases their dose, the more potential for side effects.
3. Time Span
How long have you been taking Abilify? Those who have been taking it for a long period of time may have become adjusted to the drug. Over time, the nervous system makes adjustments to accommodate the supply of the Abilify. Someone who has used the drug for years may have adapted to the drug and have minimal side effects.
On the other hand, a person who has used it for only a week or two may not have adjusted to the drug and may be dealing with troublesome side effects. In other cases, some people notice side effects that begin to develop associated with long term usage of the drug.
4. Other Drugs
Are you taking any other drugs or medications? In certain cases, the combination of drugs may lead to a person experiencing less side effects. In other scenarios, taking other drugs may interact with the Abilify and lead to more severe side effects. It is important to be aware of how you react if you are on a cocktail of medications.
Abilify Side Effects: List of Common Possiblities
Below is a list of common side effects that people may experience while they take Abilify. Understand that many of these side effects are common and in many cases subside as your body gets used to taking the drug. If unwanted side effects persist for an extended period of time or become severe, seek medical attention.
- Allergic reactions: A fairly common reaction to taking this drug in younger people is that of a stuffy nose, rash, and feeling somewhat sick. Although this reaction may stop after a period of time, in some people it persists making the drug intolerable.
- Anxiety: One of the most common side effects associated with Abilify is that of anxiety. You may notice that your anxiety level significantly increases when you start taking the drug. This is due to the medication having an influence on neurotransmitter functioning.
- Agitation: The feeling of nervous excitement is common when you start this drug. Most drugs have this listed as a possible side effect. Do what you can to cope with it and eventually it may subside as you get used to the drug.
- Blurred vision: With many antipsychotic drugs, experiencing vision changes is common. The most commonly reported symptom associated with visual changes is “blurred vision.” In other words, you may notice that your field of vision becomes clouded, usually in temporary bouts.
- Constipation: An uncomfortable side effect that some people deal with from this drug is constipation. You may have a difficult time with bowel movements and note that these started after you began your medication.
- Depression: A side effect that isn’t commonly noted is that of depression, yet it affects quite a few people. If you start taking this drug and it makes you feel even more depressed, it’s not all in your head. Most people who take this drug may assume that it’s just their depression getting worse, when in reality the further downward spiral in mood is caused by the drug.
- Dizziness: You may feel dizzy, experience vertigo, and/or lightheadedness when you initially start Abilify. This is an extremely common side effect that tends to go away as your body adapts to the drug. You may have to tough this symptom out realizing that it should eventually stop.
- Dry mouth: Although unpleasant, experiencing dry mouth is something that affects many people on these types of medications. This is where your mouth becomes unusually dry and typically lacks saliva production to keep it moist.
- Extrapyramidal effects: These include akathisia (inability to stop moving) and akinesia (inability to initiate movement). Fortunately in terms of ranking, Abilify is considered one of the least likely antipsychotics to cause these effects. This is more common in younger individuals taking the drug than adults.
- Faintness: You may note feeling faint when you stand up from a sitting or prone position. This feeling of faintness may be accompanied by a racing heart. Initially you may think that it’s just all in your head, when it is an actual noted side effect from this drug.
- Fatigue: Some individuals go on the drug and feel incredibly fatigued. This increase in fatigue can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, exercise, and stay productive. If the fatigue becomes bad enough, you may want to consider switching medications.
- Headache: As your body gets used to taking a new drug, you may notice that you get a headache. This is one of the more common side effects with any psychiatric drug let alone Abilify. Most people that experience headaches note that they tend to subside after awhile.
- Increased appetite: Most antipsychotics tend to increase a person’s appetite, which can lead to weight gain. Do not be surprised if you begin eating more than you normally would. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why antipsychotics cause increased appetite, but nearly all of them do.
- Insomnia: Some people may experience insomnia as a side effect. The drug affects everyone differently. Certain people may be unable to fall asleep at night, while others may feel like sleeping all the time. If the insomnia is becoming a problem, talk to your psychiatrist about it.
- Muscle pain: You may begin taking this drug and notice that you experience muscle pain and/or weakness. This may persist for awhile, but should eventually lessen in severity. This is an unfortunate side effect that Abilify can cause.
- Nausea: Another common experience is to feel heavy nausea, especially when you start taking the drug. You may feel sick to your stomach for a week or two after you begin the drug. Over time, most people find that nausea goes away.
- Restlessness: You may notice that you have become more restless than normal. This is a noted effect associated with this drug. Compared to other antipsychotics, this one is more likely to make you restless than a zombie.
- Sexual dysfunction: Although some people may not report sexual problems from Abilify, many have sexual difficulties. This can include a lack of interest in sex (e.g. low libido) as well as inability to orgasm. This is one of the more notable frustrating side effects for many on medication.
- Suicidal thoughts: Another apparently “less common” side effect is that of suicidal thinking. Some people will have brain chemistry that doesn’t agree with the drug. The neurotransmitter changes from the drug can lead a person to feel suicidal.
- Weight gain: An extremely common side effect from this medication is that of weight gain. Most people who take antipsychotics end up gaining some weight. Some weight gain is inevitable as these drugs increase appetite, slow metabolism, and may reduce energy.
- Vomiting: During the first week or two, you may feel very nauseous, which can cause someone to vomit. It is common to feel sick when you introduce a new drug as powerful as Abilify to your body. In many cases the vomiting will subside over time, but be sure to communicate this side effect to your doctor.
Note: There are significantly more “side effects” than the ones listed above. The ones listed above are more commonly reported.
Abilify: Serious Side Effects
When taking Abilify, it is important to be aware of potential serious side effects that you may experience. Should you experience any of these effects, it is important to get immediate medical attention to improve your prognosis.
- Blood sugar increases: Some people may note spikes in blood sugar levels when they begin taking Abilify. This is a condition known as hyperglycemia and can be induced by using an antipsychotic drug.
- Compulsive behavior: A lesser noted side effect is that of compulsive behavior. With Abilify, specifically noted was “gambling” as a side effect of the drug. Although the drug obviously cannot make anyone do anything, it could lead some to engage in gambling. There are actually lawsuits in the works for this drug leading to excessive gambling. If you are on this drug, you may want to think twice before going to a casino. Read: http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/199/2/158.full.
- Decreased white blood cells: In some people, this drug can decrease their white blood cell count, which makes them more prone to infection. If you have any history of low white blood cell counts, be sure to get your counts monitored while taking the drug.
- Fever: It is known that the drug can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This can lead some people to develop a fever. Obviously most people will not have a long lasting fever, but if it persists for more than a few days, seek medical help.
- Orthostatic hypotension: This refers to experiencing decreases in blood pressure when rising from a seated or prone position. This may lead to a person fainting and/or feeling lightheaded often. Be sure to keep this in mind while taking the drug.
- Seizures: Experiencing convulsions have been reported by people taking Abilify. If you notice yourself shaking uncontrollably and/or if you have a seizure, it could be related to this medication.
- Stroke risk: There is evidence suggesting that this drug can increase a person’s risk of developing a stroke or “mini stroke.” It is more common for an elderly patients who are taking this drug for dementia-related psychosis to experience a stroke.
Abilify: Weighing side effects (cons) vs. benefits (pros)
If you are taking Abilify, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of your experience. Are the side effects (cons) outweighing the benefits (pros)? It is important to take an objective look at your personal situation and come up with an honest answer to that question. People who are experiencing debilitating side effects such as: constant vomiting, blurred vision, muscle pain, and allergic reactions may want to reconsider this drug.
For many individuals, taking Abilify may provide them with relief from symptoms related to their mental illness. Someone who has tried an array of medications and only has gotten relief from Abilify may want to stay on it no matter how crippling their side effects. If this is the first atypical antipsychotic drug you’ve tried and aren’t reacting well to it, there are plenty of others that you can try.
Just like with any medication, you need to ask yourself if the therapeutic effects are outweighing the side effects. If the answer is a resounding “no,” then you should probably talk to your psychiatrist and try to come up with some other options. If you are undecided as to whether you should put up with the side effects vs. trying another medication, talk to your doctor.
If you have taken Abilify and noticed side effects, feel free to share your experience in the comments section. What are the worst side effects you experienced with Abilify? Did they eventually go away with time or did they make you decide to quit the drug?