The Mighty Logo

What Are the Different Types of Tardive Dyskinesia Treatments?

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

The treatment landscape for tardive dyskinesia (TD), a movement disorder that can develop  after the use of antipsychotic medications, is rapidly evolving. In the past five years alone, two medications for treating the symptoms of tardive dyskinesia were approved for use in the U.S.

While there is currently no cure for TD, there are steps you can take to lessen symptom severity and improve your quality of life.

Early Detection and Symptom Monitoring

As is commonly the case in the treatment of disease, early detection is key to obtaining the greatest level of symptom relief. Although it is unclear why some people develop TD from certain antipsychotic medications while others do not, certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing TD and the severity of its symptoms. Some risk factors are unalterable, like TD occurring more frequently in older adults and females. 

Other risks can be addressed as part of a prevention or treatment plan. For example, uncontrolled diabetes is associated with worsening TD symptoms and an increased likelihood of developing the condition in the first place. In this case, managing blood sugar levels with the help of a health care provider may be considered part of a TD prevention or treatment plan.

Adjust Current Medication Use

As tardive dyskinesia can be a side effect of certain antipsychotic medications, initial treatment following diagnosis will likely involve adjusting the medications you are taking. TD most often appears after prolonged use of a class of antipsychotic medications called dopamine receptor blockers, although symptoms sometimes arise within months of starting an antipsychotic medication.

Stopping or lowering the dosage of the medication causing the TD may cause the symptoms to stop or lessen. However, it can sometimes take up to a year for the full effects of stopping the medication to be observed. Never stop or change medication dosage without consulting your health care provider. Incorrectly adjusting antipsychotic medication may worsen symptoms of TD.

Medications to Treat TD

In some cases, TD symptoms persist even after adjusting the use of the responsible antipsychotic medication. Other times, it is unreasonable to stop a treatment regimen that is working to treat mental illness. Additional medication(s) may be prescribed in these instances to address the uncontrolled movements characteristic of TD.

Tardive dyskinesia is associated with the use of a specific class of antipsychotic medications called dopamine receptor blockers. These medications limit the presence of dopamine in the brain, as excessive dopamine can lead to various neurological and psychiatric disorders. However, movement disorders like tardive dyskinesia can occur when dopamine levels drop too low in the brain. Medications used to treat TD aim to balance dopamine receptor levels in the brain.

Additional Treatments

Although not proven to be fully effective in treating TD, there are some natural remedies and supplements that studies have suggested could help ease its symptoms, including ginko biloba, vitamin E, and vitamin B6.

Deep brain stimulation has been used to treat especially severe cases of TD.

Exercise and Therapies

Your treatment regimen will depend on the symptoms you are experiencing and the amount to which they impact the quality of your daily life. For example, speech therapy may be recommended to address irregular tongue movements and help teach safe swallowing techniques, while physical therapy and exercise would be recommended to address symptoms impacting large muscle groups including muscle tremors, balance problems, gait changes, and flexibility.

When considering therapies to treat TD symptoms, it’s vital to not overlook the importance of psychotherapy and emotional support. TD can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and isolating. These feelings are valid, and a therapist may be able to help you process these feelings productively. To read more about finding different therapies for TD and building your support team, click here.

There may be other possible treatments for TD, and new treatment options are being researched in clinical trials. When it comes to managing your TD symptoms, keep trying different approaches until you find a routine that works for you. Your physical comfort and mental health are worth the effort.

Originally published: June 30, 2023
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home