What Are the Side Effects of Haloperidol?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Haloperidol (Haldol®) is an antipsychotic medication that may treat people’s separation from reality, explosive mood, or conditions like movement disorders, such as Tourette’s syndrome. The side effects of haloperidol are extensive and the drug should only be used when absolutely indicated. There are also warnings about avoiding this drug with particular populations; it may create a risk for sudden death in people over 65 and is usually not used to treat dementia-induced psychosis, and it is also not appropriate for pregnant women, as it can cause withdrawal symptoms in the newborn, particularly if the drug is used in the last three months of pregnancy.

A flat effect is one possible side effect of haloperidol.
A flat effect is one possible side effect of haloperidol.

The side effects of haloperidol can further be separated into side effects of concern that should be noted to a doctor if they are bothersome, and those adverse effects which require immediate medical attention. Even the side effects of concern may be enough for some people to discontinue the drug or try another option because they can be onerous. Informing doctors about adverse effects, even if they are minor, can help better direct treatment.

There are many common side effects of haloperidol, including dry mouth, headache, insomnia or sleepiness, a sense of restlessness, anxiety, dizziness, feeling drunk or spinning, increased or decreased sexual interest, irregular menstrual periods, reduced urination, and blurred vision. Other potential adverse effects include enlargement of the breasts or breast production of milk, mood changes, flat affect or flat facial expression, slowed movements of the limbs, rapid eye movements, reduced appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Not all people will experience all of the side effects of haloperidol, and some side effects improve with time, while others worsen with time.

Dangerous side effects that require emergency medical attention are many in number, too. They include developing signs of jaundice like yellowing of the eyes or experiencing vision changes where everything appears to be brown or tan. A number of potentially problematic side effects of haloperidol concern uncontrolled movement of the limbs, face, or tongue; many antipsychotics hazard the risk of developing movement disorders. Serious conditions may also be indicated by minimal thirst, priapism or erection lasting more than four hours, cramps in the neck, fever, irregular heartbeat, seizures, trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, stiffness in the muscles or neck, and discoloration of the eyes.

In addition to the side effects of haloperidol there are many potential medications with which the drug can interact, and doctors should have a full list of patient medications. Some medical conditions like pregnancy and dementia have already been mentioned as potential risks, and other ones may contraindicate use or change dosage of Haldol® like long QT syndrome, bipolar disorder, seizures, cardiac disease, and thyroid disorders. Ideally, practitioners should gather a full medical history on patients to prevent dangerous interactions and side effects, but it is sometimes difficult to get this history when treating patients suffering from psychosis, who do not have nearby family members that can give information about medical history.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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