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What is Tacrine?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tacrine is a prescription medication used to treat some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. It often helps with cognition and short-term memory in patients with mild or early forms of the disease. Tacrine is not considered a cure for Alzheimer's, nor can it prevent the disease from progressively worsening. It can, however, make daily life activities and conversations easier for a sufferer. The drug is generally considered safe, though it may cause some unwanted side effects such as diarrhea, headaches, and muscle fatigue.

Most doctors and medical researchers believe the early dementia symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are correlated with lower than normal levels of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine in the brain. Tacrine is classified as an acetylcholine re-uptake inhibitor, which means that it works by blocking channels in the brain that absorb the chemical. It allows for higher levels of acetylcholine to remain in circulation for a longer period of time. As a result, short-term memory, attention, and concentration become sharper.

Tacrine usually comes in oral capsules that are prescribed to be taken four times a day at regular intervals. Doctors usually suggest taking the drug at least one hour before a meal to lessen the chances of nausea and stomach upset. Dosage amounts can vary based on a patient's weight, symptoms, and overall health, but most people are instructed to take four 10-milligram tablets throughout the day for the first month of treatment. If the drug is well tolerated, the dosage amount may be doubled.

Side effects are usually mild when taking tacrine. Common reactions include stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. Some people also experience muscle aches, weakness, dizziness, and insomnia. Nausea and vomiting are possible, especially if the drug is taken shortly after a large meal. Rarely, the drug can induce a fast or irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, fever, mental confusion, or fainting. It is important for patients to report any unusual minor side effects to their doctors and seek medical help immediately if serious reactions occur.

Patients and their caregivers are strongly encouraged to follow dosing schedules exactly to reduce the chances of adverse problems. It is possible to overdose on the drug and experience life-threatening blood pressure issues, shock, stroke, or heart attack, but such problems are rare when tacrine is taken exactly how it is prescribed. Regular checkups during treatment are important so doctors can assess how well the drug is working and whether or not additional steps need to be taken in treating Alzheimer's symptoms.

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