Seroquel® is also known by the generic name quetiapine, and it is in a class of medications called atypical antipsychotics. These drugs were developed to treat schizophrenia and manic stages in bipolar disorder and have a lower side effect profile than do older antipsychotics like Haldol®. Drugs like Seroquel® still can cause some of the symptoms that drugs like Haldol® do, such as tardive dyskinesia, which causes involuntary movement especially of the face that may be permanent, but this is much less likely to occur. Due to lowered side effect risk and proven efficacy, Seroquel® and other atypicals may now also be used as adjunct therapy in the treatment of depression.
While many medications are beneficial for some, they can be dangerous for others, and Seroquel® is no exception in this respect. It is not approved for use in elderly populations for the treatment of dementia. A clear link has been established between this medication’s use in this population and elevated risk for sudden death or heart attack. It’s also not recommended for use in pregnancy, and prescriptions to teens and young adults should be carefully weighed, since like many mood altering drugs, it may increase risk of suicidality and actual suicidal behavior in this population.
When doctors prescribe quetiapine, it can take several weeks for the medication to become fully effective. It does not necessarily work in all people, and this may mean a higher dose is necessary, or that another medication would be more appropriate for treatment. The drug is available in several dosing strengths and in both extended release and regular form. Dosing may mean taking this medication once or twice a day depending upon the doctor’s recommendations.
Some people will experience significant side effects during the first few days to weeks of taking this medication. It can cause excessive sleepiness, dizziness, headache and nasal congestion. For most, these effects are transient and as the body adjusts to the medication they will go away. However, some people will continue to experience these and other side effects that can include: constipation, stomach ache, general pains, sweating, swelling of the ankles, and heart palpitations.
Many people gain weight while taking Seroquel®. This tends to be the case with almost all atypical antipsychotics. Another common issue is that the medication raises blood sugar levels and may increase risk for diabetes. Quetiapine has also been shown to raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels over 10%. There is some risk of the development of tardive dyskinesia with this medication; risk is typically highest with higher doses and long-term use.
It’s important that people know what side effects to look for that are considered medically urgent. These include extreme fever, uncontrolled muscle movements, trouble urinating or reduced urine output and black stools. Any of these, plus any increase in suicidal thinking should be reported to a doctor right away. An extremely serious condition called neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) may occasionally develop from use of quetiapine. It is a medical emergency and its symptoms include: rigid muscles, high fever, altered mental state, and irregular heart rhythms.
For a number of people Seroquel® becomes a wonder drug that truly alleviates mental disorders. Others find that the side effects of this medication outweigh its benefits. It’s important not to let reports of side effects discourage people too much from trying this medication for conditions that it may help. Though there are people that experience most of the side effects and for long periods of time, others have few. Each person’s response to medication is individual and cannot be fully predicted by how other people have responded. This is especially the case with most medications used to treat mental disorders. How they actually work and their mechanism is not fully known, and thus it’s hard to say how they will help each individual.