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Although atypical antipsychotic medications like Risperdal (risperidone) have been promoted as safe and effective means of treating psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the drugs have long been associated with devastating side effects like tardive dyskinesia, a debilitating neurological disorder characterized by persistent involuntary tremors. Johnson & Johnson’s Risperdal drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, and has since become the second most widely prescribed antipsychotic on the market in the United States, behind only Seroquel. Despite concerns about the safety of Risperdal and other atypical antipsychotics regarding the risk of tardive dyskinesia, these medications continue to lead the antipsychotic market. Risperdal alone accounted for 23% of the 54 million antipsychotic prescriptions filled during the 12 months ending in October 2011, and attorneys across the country are now investigating claims filed on behalf of Risperdal users who have been diagnosed with tardive dyskinesia and other serious side effects.
Tardive Dyskinesia Signs and Symptoms
It is widely believed that the movement disorder tardive dyskinesia results from the long-term use of neuroleptics, or antipsychotics, although some people have developed the incapacitating condition after using an antipsychotic drug for as little as six weeks. Some common symptoms of tardive dyskinesia include involuntary tremors that may include:
- Finger movement
- Facial grimacing
- Repetitive chewing
- Tongue thrusting
- Jaw swinging
Tardive Dyskinesia Treatment and Complications
Causes and symptoms of tardive dyskinesia vary from person to person, and, because of this, treatment for the condition is highly individualized. However, because the primary believed cause of tardive dyskinesia is the use of certain antipsychotic drugs, the first step in treatment for the movement disorder is discontinuing use of the offending medication. With a prompt diagnosis, the effects of tardive dyskinesia may be reversed by stopping use of the drug that caused the movement disorder. Unfortunately, even if the antipsychotic drug treatment is terminated, the involuntary movements may become permanent, and may become significantly worse in some cases.
Research Linking Tardive Dyskinesia to Risperdal
First-generation antipsychotic drugs like haloperidol (Haldol) and chlorpromazine (Thorazine) were first discovered in the 1950s, and were found to have a calming effect on patients struggling with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia. Unfortunately, they were also found to be associated with a number of serious and often irreversible side effects, including tardive dyskinesia, which tends to persist and is sometimes irreversible. Atypical antipsychotics like Risperdal were later designed to avoid tardive dyskinesia side effects in patients, which is why the drugs were perceived to be safer than older antipsychotics.
However, mounting research has suggested that even second-generation antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal can cause tardive dyskinesia side effects in patients. In fact, in May 2000, a Philadelphia jury awarded $6.7 million to a patient suffering from Risperdal-related tardive dyskinesia. According to the complaint, the plaintiff, Elizabeth Liss, developed the neurological disorder after taking Risperdal for 14 months as a treatment for bipolar disorder. Although there is insufficient data available to predict the exact rates of tardive dyskinesia for Risperdal and other atypical antipsychotics, medical professionals are advised to assume that all antipsychotic drugs are associated with a risk of tardive dyskinesia side effects.