Anticholinergics – OTC Prescription Drugs Bad For Your Brain?

Anticholinergics Review –  What Are They?

Anticholinergics is an umbrella term used to describe a certain class of drugs that treat and wide variety of ailments. The following publication will highlight the most important aspects of this class of drug such as different and specific anticholinergics and what they treat, how they help you, where they come from, how they work, side effects and even signs of an overdose. If you have recently been prescribed an anticholinergic or are just curious about the benefits they can possibly offer you, then this easy to read guide should assist you through even the most complex of questions and answers making them understandable to even the most novice of individuals.

“What a confusing weird word”, you might be thinking when you first hear of anticholinergics. This is followed by the more common questions of, “What are anticholinergics?” and “What are anticholinergics used for?” If you have been prescribed these or told about these and are left scratching your head, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

A Comprehensive Breakdown of Anticholinergics

To get started, let’s get familiar with these drugs, so that you can have a deeper understanding of how they can affect your lifestyle and what to expect when taking them. To begin, anticholinergics is an umbrella term used to describe a specific class of drugs that are used to block the firing of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.

In many of the conditions that this drug is prescribed for, they are helpful because they care crucial in the process of blocking involuntary activity of the muscles that are linked with a large number of conditions and diseases. They also are used to treat specific kinds of toxic poisoning and can be used as an aid to anesthesia.

This unique class of drug is utilized to treat an array of different conditions and diseases such as:

  • Asthma
  • Allergies
    • Indoor and/or seasonal
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Disorders related to genitourinary tracts
    • Urethritis
    • Prostatitis
    • Cystitis
  • Dizziness, vertigo, and motion sickness
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • Diarrhea
    • Overactive bladder
    • Incontinence
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Poisoning from toxins
    • Organophosphates
    • Muscarine
  • Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
  • Vomiting or nausea

For mental illness, anticholinergics are also used to aid sleep in those suffering from sleep disorders as well as helping with depression. They are helpful because they regulate the amount of dopamine and acetylcholine the body produces. This can increase mood stability and help to alleviate many of the more common side effects of depression such as sadness, irritability and feeling melancholy.

Where Anticholinergics Come From And How They Work

All deriving from the plants in the family of the deadly nightshade formerly known as Solanaceae, anticholinergics are known for their wide range of use against ailments of multiple varieties. Atropine is one of the many anticholinergics commonly used and can be created by burning the roots, stems, and seeds of the plants in this family. By burning these sections of the plants it releases a substance by the name of alkaloids and a particular antimuscarinic agent (substance that blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine) of the alkaloids is atropine. Inhaling the smoke of the burned plants has been utilized for hundreds of years to aid in the ability to breath with those that have obstructive airway diseases.

How anticholinergics work can be confusing to understand with all the doctoral language and complicated phrasing, but when taking the extra step to explain some of the terms anyone can grasp the concept. Essentially what happens when an anticholinergic is working well and how it’s supposed to it will inhibit certain nerve impulses that are calm the body, often referred to as parasympathetic.

This may sound complicated but it just means that it affects the brain in a way that makes the pathways in which our brain communicates with the rest of our body react in whatever way the anticholinergics tell it to.

To understand a bit better, this all happens by blocking the binding of acetylcholine to its receptor that are in nerve cells. You can think of it as acetylcholine being a ball trying to get into a hole (receptor) when a piece of wood (anticholinergic) blocks the transaction.

The parasympathetic nerve system is just one of the two main parts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and its specific function is to manage the actions that happen when our bodies are at rest. The nerves in this section of the brain are the reason for any involuntary movement of muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, urinary tract, and a few other parts of the body.

Getting the Help You Need From Anticholinergics

This unique class of medication has the ability to help a wide variety of ailments and conditions. Many people take anticholinergic already and may not even know it. The biggest household anticholinergic and most typically known one would have to be the anti-allergy medication Benadryl. Anticholinergics are a great tool to aid against many conditions and symptoms like:

Anticholinergics can be used as a muscle relaxant during surgery as well in order to assist with anesthesia. Why this kind of drug is used more than others is because of its ability to not only relax the individual but also decrease the amount of saliva secreted from them as well.

Anticholinergic can be obtained with a physician's prescription. There are many medications in this family class of drugs, some of the more common examples include:

Artane (Trihexyphenidyl)

This medication is used to treat stiffness, tremors, spasms, and poor muscle control often related to Parkinson’s disease.


Used to treat nerve agents, pesticide poisonings, some kinds of slow heart rate as well as aiding in the decline of saliva produced during surgery.

Belladonna Alkaloids

Used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers in the intestines, Belladonna Alkaloids are considered effective stomach medicines.


Especially helpful in treating indoor, outdoor and seasonal allergies. In some cases it can also be used as a sleep aid occasionally.


Used to treat a number of conditions including to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and reduction of sweating that use methadone.

Cogentin (Benztropine Mesylate)

Used to treat overactive bladder, this can calm the spasms of the muscle and make it easier to tighten or relax muscles before going to the bathroom.

Darifenacin (Enablex)

This is another medication that treats overactive bladder symptoms such as frequent or urgent urination and incontinence.

Fesoterodine (Toviaz)

Yet another drug for overactive bladder, it also can prevent premature urination and reduce urgency to go.

Flavoxate (Urispas)

This drug acts as a mild relaxant for the bladder, which can aid against muscle spasms that result in painful and difficult urination.

Hyoscyamine (Levsinex)

A diverse drug that is most commonly prescribed for irritation of the nose, stomach ulcers and anticholinesterase poisoning, it can also be used to reduce the muscle cramps in bowels or bladder such as those caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis or other digestive issues. It can treat the pain caused by kidney or gallstones, and muscle problems related to Parkinson's disease as well.


This medication is commonly prescribed to fight drug induced Parkinsonism, Akathisia and acute dystonia.

Propantheline (Pro-Banthine)

This medication is known to reduce stomach acid and is especially useful for people with digestive ulcers.


A medication that can fend off motion sickness, it is also commonly prescribed for postoperative nausea and vomiting.

Solifenacin (VESIcare)

This is another medication that is used to treat the symptoms of overactive bladder.

Tolterodine (Detrol)

Also used in cases with overactive bladder, this medication specifically works for cases of urgency and the inability to hold back urine leakage.

You, Your Doctor and Anticholinergics

Because of the broad scope of these drugs, it is always best to talk to your health care professional before you begin taking them. There are certain drug interactions that can be problematic, as well there are certain demographics of people with certain conditions that generally should avoid anticholinergics. It’s important to have a frank dialogue and to be honest with your doctor so that they can prescribe the best kinds of drugs for your conditions.

Who Shouldn’t Take Anticholinergics

While there isn’t one group of people that specifically shouldn’t take these drugs, the kinds of medications within the anticholinergic category are not typically prescribed to individuals over 50. The elderly happen to be more sensitive to their intended effects and side effects in comparison to the younger adults that take them. Anticholinergics have been known to sometime cause confusion, memory loss, worsening of mental function and other cognitive effects on those that are over the age of 50 or are already disposed to those mental ailments.

Along with the elderly anticholinergic drugs should not be taken by individuals with any of the following conditions:

  • Blockage of the urinary tract
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Glaucoma
  • Heart failure
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Liver disease
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Severe dry mouth

When to Use Caution with Anticholinergic Medications

Medications in this category should not be used by individuals that have an allergy to any of the agents within anticholinergic medications. When you talk to your physician, it is vital that if you do happen to have any of the above listed ailments or if you have known allergies to these medication types that you let them know. This is for your safety.

Another precaution that should be mentioned and understood is the medication's ability to decrease sweating sometimes resulting in an increase in body temperature. If this is the case extra steps should be taken to make sure overheating during exercise, hot baths, or in hot weather does not happen. If this is not monitored the decrease in sweating can lead to a heart stroke.

Common Side Effects of Anticholinergics

Like any medication, anticholinergics can have some side effects that are not guaranteed but can come to light after either a single dose or extended use. Each side effect does depend on the dose and sometimes the extent of use because it is a toss up if an individual has any side effects just keep these in the back of your mind when taking anticholinergics. It is always suggested to check in with your physician or healthcare provider if side effects continue, become bothersome or continue to worsen and are severe.

Side effects of drugs in this class are as follows:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Decreased saliva
  • Decreased sweating
  • Delirium
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory impairment
  • Sedation

Another word of warning comes from taking too much of the medication, as with any drugs there are severe consequences for taking too much or overdosing. Overdosing on certain anticholinergic or even taking them while under the influence of alcohol can lead to unconsciousness or even possibly death. If you believe you or someone you know may have taken too much medication and suspect an overdose seek emergency medical health immediately.

Signs of an overdose are as follows:

  • Clumsiness and slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Flushing and warmth of the skin
  • Unsafe levels of drowsiness
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Trouble breathing

Again, never take any medication that is not specifically prescribed to you by a physician. If any side effects are so severe they affect your day to day life speak with your care provider about dosage and how to manage those side effects.

Since there are many different kinds available that correlate with ailments a physician will pick the medication which fits your condition best.

Will Anticholinergic Work For You?

You may notice that many of the drugs listed are for urinary troubles or muscle spasms. If you have a condition that anticholinergic medications are commonly prescribed for and your doctor gives you the thumbs up for taking them, then chances are that they will work for you. These are tried and tested drugs, many that have been on the market for years with proven results. While they do have side effects, they are not particularly common. For most individuals, anticholinergics will be considered perfectly safe and an effective solution for the conditions in which they are prescribed for.

However, you won’t know until you try. If you have one of the conditions that are commonly prescribed anticholinergics, then talk to your doctor and start your medication. Take the medication regularly and as prescribed for the best results.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here