What is Akathisia?
Akathisia is a condition that causes intense feelings of restlessness. People with akathisia often pace or fidget uncontrollably (x). There are several types of akathisia, and medication causes most of them.
Other conditions closely resemble akathisia, including restless leg syndrome, anxiety and mood disorders. Unfortunately, this makes misdiagnosis common. To diagnose this disorder, doctors examine patient histories with the help of a checklist. This allows them to determine which type of akathisia the patient may have.
There are four types of akathisia (x):
- Acute akathisia develops right after a patient starts a new medication and usually lasts for fewer than six months.
- Tardive akathisia develops long after a patient starts a new medication. This form of the condition is often difficult to diagnose.
- Withdrawal akathisia develops when a patient stops taking a certain medication. It can manifest months after the last dose.
- Chronic akathisia may develop at any time when a patient takes a new medication. This form of akathisia lasts for more than six months.
Symptoms of Akathisia
Akathisia symptoms vary in intensity, depending on the medication that triggers the condition. It’s often dangerous; sometimes, patients can become so agitated that they have violent thoughts toward themselves or others.
Symptoms may include:
- Restlessness, including fidgeting of the legs and arms and rocking back and forth
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty sleeping
- Suicidal thoughts
- Homicidal thoughts
Causes of Akathisia
Akathisia usually develops after taking certain medications, and some drugs are more likely to cause it than others (x). The numbers are shocking: 50 to 80 percent of those taking one group of antipsychotic drugs will experience this condition (x). Some antidepressants may cause it, as well.
Withdrawal from illegal drugs such as cocaine causes a host of side effects including akathisia. The condition is also common in patients with Parkinson’s disease or brain injuries.
Remedies and Supplements for Akathisia
To treat akathisia symptoms, doctors may direct patients to stop taking their current medications, or to start taking new medications. Beta-blockers have also been found to help patients manage their symptoms.
Vitamin B6 may help, too (x). It’s found naturally in a variety of foods, including beans, meat and vegetables. You can also add vitamin B6 supplements to your diet, although you should always speak to your doctor before taking any new supplements.
A healthy diet plays an essential role in relieving anxiety and related conditions like akathisia. If you have akathisia, avoid processed foods like white bread and sugar, and steer clear of coffee–it can make your anxiety worse.
The Bottom Line
Akathisia is a condition that causes agitation and restlessness, often as a result of taking certain medications. Symptoms are often debilitating and dangerous.
The good news is your doctor can help relieve your akathisia symptoms by changing your medication. Supplements for anxiety and a healthy, nutrient-rich diet also promote feelings of calmness and well-being. With medical care and careful monitoring, akathisia is usually a temporary condition.