Abilify is an antipsychotic medication, which was first developed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company of Japan. Otsuka later partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb to market and bring the drug to the U.S. and Europe. As an antipsychotic, Abilify, also known as aripiprazole, is an important medication for people suffering with certain serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia.
Although important to these patients, Abilify also causes side effects that can range from mild and common to rare and serious. Some of these Abilify side effects are serious enough to have warranted the highest level of warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): the black box warning. At least one of these potential complications has led to a number of lawsuits against the drug companies and if you suffered because of Abilify, you may also have an important case to make against them.
What is Abilify?
Aripiprazole is an antipsychotic drug used to treat mental illness. It belongs to the class of drugs identified as second generation antipsychotics. These are more advanced, more effective, and are supposed to be safer than the first generation drugs. The earlier medications were developed as long ago as the 1950s, and although there are still serious concerns with drugs like Abilify, they are considered to be better.
Abilify is approved and indicated for the treatment of schizophrenia. It provides reliefs from symptoms like hallucinations and delusions, which can make living normal, daily life challenging. Abilify can also be prescribed to treat mania, which is experienced by some people with bipolar disorder. It may also be given to patients being treated for bipolar disorder or depression as an adjunct to other medications, like an antidepressant, for instance.
Common Abilify Side Effects
Like most medications Abilify is known to cause side effects. There are risks to be balanced against the benefits, and fortunately for most people this comes out in favor of the benefits. Some of the most common side effects that the drug may cause, which are not serious include constipation, vomiting, nausea, restlessness, blurry vision, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, tremors, and headaches. For many people these diminish with time as the body gets used to the medication.
Less common, but still possible is that Abilify will change hormone levels. It is known to increase the amount of a certain hormone called prolactin. The result may be that men experience some erectile or sexual dysfunction. For women this can lead to a lower output of breast milk or irregular or stopped periods. For all patients, higher levels of prolactin may cause bone weakness, especially over a long period of time.
More Serious Side Effects
Some of the more serious Abilify side effects are much less common. Some of these are a rash, dry mouth, increased appetite which can lead to weight gain, muscle aches, and even seizures. Increased weight gain on Abilify if not corrected can cause further complications including high blood sugar and pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. Muscle aches and tremors may be symptoms of a rare condition called tardive dyskinesia.
Also rare but serious is a condition called neuroleptic malignant syndrome. This is characterized by muscle stiffness, sweating, fever, and feelings of confusion. It is very serious and considered life-threatening. Treatment should be immediate. Also rare, but possible is a sudden heart arrhythmia that can lead to a fatal heart attack.
Death in Elderly Patients and Suicide
One of the black box warnings carried by Abilify is with regard to the possibility of death in elderly patients with symptoms of dementia. The FDA strongly cautions against using Abilify in this population because it increases the risk of a stroke, and therefore of death. The other black box warning is for suicidal thoughts in younger patients. Children, teens, and adults under 25 are at risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and of dying because of them, while taking Abilify.
Because of the black box warning, the FDA still allows Abilify to stay on the market in spite of the serious risk of death to certain patients. The agency considers it to be up to doctors to prescribe the medication responsibly and patients to read the warnings and make informed decisions. Children may be given Abilify, but the risks are known and careful monitoring is necessary.
By far the Abilify side effect that has been most controversial and newsworthy is the potential for compulsive gambling and other impulsive behaviors. The evidence that this is possible is still fairly new, but compelling. Much of the evidence comes from individual case studies of patients who felt compelled to gamble, or in some cases eat compulsively while on Abilify, but who were able to stop immediately once off the drug.
This strange, yet damaging side effect has led to a number of lawsuits because patients have lost thousands of dollars and more due to gambling activities. They feel that the drug companies did not warn them that this was possible. Those who engaged in compulsive eating were at risk for serious weight gain and the resulting health complications. Both types of compulsive behaviors also had the potential to damage patients’ lives in other ways, through lost jobs or relationships for example.
The case studies that have been done on these individuals led researchers to conclude that their behaviors were pathological. That means there was something going on in the brain that made it impossible for the person to walk away from the poker table or the food. Although more research is needed to untangle all of this, it is thought that a brain chemical called dopamine could be involved. Abilify stimulates dopamine in the brain and it is a chemical that is linked to addiction and compulsive behaviors.
If you were harmed by any of the side effects caused by Abilify you may have lost money to medical expenses and lost time at work. Suing may be an option to help you make up for those losses and also to compensate you for pain and suffering. Otsuka and Bristol-Myers Squibb may be negligent in many cases related to Abilify, including yours.