Doctors prescribe anticholinergic drugs to treat a variety of conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bladder conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Many types of drugs produce anticholinergic effects. They all work by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a type of neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain. Blocking this neurotransmitter inhibits involuntary muscle movements and various bodily functions.

Only a doctor can determine which anticholinergics are right for a person and how long the treatment should last. The inappropriate use of anticholinergics can have severe adverse effects.

In this article, learn more about anticholinergic drugs, their uses, and possible side effects.

Anticholinergics are a type of medication that blocks the action of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine transfers signals between cells that affect specific bodily functions.

The medication blocks acetylcholine from causing involuntary muscle movements in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, and other areas of the body.

As anticholinergics can affect a variety of functions, including digestion, urination, salivation, and movement, they can help treat many conditions.

Anticholinergic drugs work by blocking the activity of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, in the cholinergic system. The cholinergic system plays a role in:

  • movement
  • the emotions
  • thinking

The cholinergic system has two types of receptors: muscarinic and nicotinic. Muscarinic receptors function in the peripheral and central nervous systems and are present in various organs throughout the body. Nicotinic receptors function in the central nervous system and at the neuromuscular junction.

Anticholinergics block activity at both these types of receptors.

Anticholinergics can help treat various health conditions, including:

Doctors may also prescribe anticholinergics such as orphenadrine as muscle relaxants. These drugs can be useful during surgery to block neuromuscular reactions and stop saliva production.

Flavoxate and oxybutynin are antispasmodic agents, which means they can help prevent vomiting. Clindinium, an anticholinergic drug that also contains chlordiazepoxide, is another example.

Some people use anticholinergics off-label for excessive sweating.

Different types of anticholinergic drugs can treat different conditions or symptoms. These medications are only available with a doctor’s prescription.

Anticholinergics include:

  • atropine
  • benztropine
  • glycopyrrolate
  • scopolamine
  • trihexyphenidyl
  • diphenhydramine
  • clinidium
  • flavoxate
  • oxybutynin
  • orphenadrine

On March 21, 2022, Sandoz issued a voluntary recall of 13 lots of the drug orphenadrine citrate 100mg ER tablets due to the presence of nitrosamine. Nitrosamine, a known carcinogen with the potential to cause cancer, was found to exist in the drug at levels greater than the acceptable daily intake (ADI) as determined by the FDA. This recall is specific only to a handful of lot numbers and does not affect all orphenadrine tablets made by Sandoz. If you take orphenadrine citrate 100mg ER tablets, talk with your pharmacist or doctor and they will help you determine if your medication has been impacted by the recall.

Anticholinergics are usually safe to use if a doctor prescribes them, but side effects can occur.

The risk of adverse effects will depend on the individual’s medical history, the dosage, and the type of anticholinergics they take. Age may also be a factor.

Possible side effects include:

Some research has linked the long-term use of anticholinergics in older people to an increased risk of dementia. Before prescribing these drugs, a doctor should consider a person’s age, health conditions, and other medications.

It is essential to remain hydrated when taking anticholinergics because they decrease sweating, which may increase the risk of overheating.

Taking too many anticholinergics can result in anticholinergic toxicity, which may cause a person to experience the side effects above to a more severe degree. If anyone notices these signs in themselves or another person, they should seek emergency medical attention.

Doctors need to take care when prescribing anticholinergics, especially for older people and those at risk of dementia.

Older people are more at risk because their blood-brain barrier is more permeable, which means the active ingredients can pass more easily into the brain.

Taking too much of an anticholinergic or using more than one anticholinergic drug can also lead to adverse effects.

Conditions that can worsen with the use of anticholinergics include:

Anticholinergics are medications that block the action of acetylcholine, a type of neurotransmitter. As a result, they stop involuntary muscle movements and various bodily functions.

Anticholinergic drugs can help treat a range of conditions, including COPD, an overactive bladder, gastrointestinal disorders, and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Anticholinergics are only available via prescription, so it is best to speak with a doctor about which type can help treat specific conditions. A doctor can also explain the risks and side effects.