What is Aripiprazole?

Mary McMahon

Aripiprazole is an antipsychotic medication available for treating bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. A doctor may also prescribe it as an adjunct therapy for a patient with major depression. Known by the brand name Abilify®, aripiprazole is kept in stock at most pharmacies, and patients can usually fill a prescription immediately. Like other medications used in the management of mental illness, this drug is most effective when taken regularly and in accordance with medical directions. Irregular and sporadic dosing can cause a relapse of symptoms.

Aripiprazole interacts with the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Aripiprazole interacts with the neurotransmitter serotonin.

This medication interacts with two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, to treat psychosis. Psychosis can cause a break with reality for patients, leading to confusion, distress, and agitation. Antipsychotic medications like aripiprazole are used in conjunction with other forms of treatment like talk therapy to manage mental illnesses where psychosis is an issue. Usually a doctor starts with a low dosage and adjusts the dosage until it is effective for the patient. Periodically, a reevaluation will determine if the dosage needs to be changed.

Aripiprazole is sometimes prescribed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Aripiprazole is sometimes prescribed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

This medication can cause side effects like headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Some potentially serious aripiprazole side effects include movement disorders like tremors and tardive dyskinesia, caused by the interference with dopamine. Patients may also experience significant weight gain and blood sugar changes. A doctor will usually recommend regular weigh ins and blood glucose evaluations to check for signs of these complications. Additionally, in older patients, there is a risk of stroke with aripiprazole.

Treatment of psychosis can be a complicated process. Often, patients will need to try several different medications to find one effective for their needs and the dosage will need to be adjusted in the long term as the patient's brain chemistry and body undergo changes. A patient will need to be monitored for life by a doctor. Lack of access to regular treatment can pose a problem for mentally ill patients, as they may not receive medications and other interventions in a timely fashion. Comorbidities in patients with mental illness can also complicate treatment.

Pregnant patients and patients considering pregnancy can discuss aripiprazole and other issues with their doctors. There may be concerns about the effects of antipsychotic medications on developing fetuses, but these must be balanced with the dangers of untreated mental illness. An obstetrician can work with the patient and a mental health care provider to work on developing a plan for managing the pregnancy and the mental illness safely and effectively.

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