Abilify is the brand name of a medication called Aripiprazole. It is a commonly prescribed medication classified as both an antipsychotic and an antidepressant. It comes in several forms, including tablets, injections, and liquid. This medication is quite similar to the other atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal in that it offers effective control of serious psychotic symptoms without the side effects associated with the older antipsychotics such as Thorazone or Haldol. Abilify is even newer than Risperdal and seems to offer some improvements over that medication in terms of certain side effects.

What is Abilify Prescribed For?

Abilify is frequently prescribed for both adults and children for a variety of psychiatric conditions, including bipolar disorder, but also schizophrenia, depression and behavioral disorders. Abilify is often prescribed along with a mood stabilizer or an antidepressant, depending upon the presenting symptoms. It is somewhat more unusual to be prescribed Abilify on its own.

Like other antipsychotics, it may be used in low doses to help with disorganized or “loose” thinking, or to help lift a depressive state that hasn’t been responsive to antidepressants alone. It may be that deep depression is worsened by irrational, “pre-psychotic” thought, so that adding an antipsychotic medication helps to clear up thinking which then allows you to feel better.

What Does it Do?

Abilify is both similar and different in how it works compared to other atypical antipsychotics. While drugs such as Risperdal are classified as serotonin and dopamine antagonists, Abilify is not. Its way of working is more complex and impacts more of the different neurotransmitters, and as is often the case, the precise mechanism of why this helps alleviate psychosis or lift depression is not known. However, it is theorized that Abilify’s action in the brain is what helps it to cause less weight gain than the other atypical antipsychotics.

What are the Most Common Side Effects?

The single most commonly reported side effect with this medication is headache. Other common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness or daytime sleepiness/sedation
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Nervousness
  • Stomach distress including constipation or vomiting
  • Less common side effects that require medical attention and should be reported to your doctor in a timely manner include:
  • Feeling jittery or jumpy
  • High blood pressure
  • Twitches, tics, or any other unintentional muscle movements

In the past, antipsychotic medications were a serious health risk because of a side effect called tardive dyskinesia (TD). TD is a very serious movement disorder often impacting facial muscles and the tongue, and is irreversible once it starts. The newer atypical antipsychotics, including Abilify, are a big improvement over the older ones because of the greatly reduced risk of this serious side effect, however, the risk is not completely eliminated. If you are taking Abilify and notice any extra unwanted movements of your face or tongue, notify your doctor immediately.

Special Concerns

Sometimes a trial of Abilify is suggested because a different “sister’ medication such as Risperdal caused unwanted side effects. Abilify may be a good choice for people with a tendency toward gain weight on other atypical antipsychotics. Ask you doctor about this.

If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, discuss taking Abilify with your doctor and weigh the pros and cons carefully. This medication, while not classified as definitely causing birth defects, may be dangerous to use during pregnancy.

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