Trifluoperazine belongs to a group of medications known as phenothiazines and is frequently used for the treatment of schizophrenia or other forms of psychosis. Infrequently, physicians might prescribe the medication for patients requiring anxiety treatment but, generally, only when other formulations prove unsuccessful. When used for anxiety disorders, the treatment is usually for a short duration only, as trifluoperazine has the potential for serious and toxic adverse effects.
Researchers believe trifluoperazine functions by blocking two of the five dopamine receptors found in smooth muscles throughout the body. These areas include the blood vessels, brain, and lungs along with the gastrointestinal and urinary systems. Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter and is the precursor for the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline. By blocking development of these hormones, antiadrenergic and anticholinergic activities generally occur, resulting in the relaxation of smooth muscle. Altering these receptors in the brain typically produces changes in behaviors and thought processes.
The chemical changes occurring in the brain, caused by trifluoperazine, typically calm mood and improve motivation. These actions of the medication diminish the symptoms of the disease by minimizing delusions, hallucinations, and self-isolating symptoms often associated with the disorder. The calming effect of the anti-psychotic drug also minimizes violent behaviors in schizophrenic patients and in those suffering from other psychotic disorders. Effective treatment for psychosis or schizophrenia usually involves long-term use to minimize symptoms and prevent exacerbations or recurrence.
Common adverse effects of trifluoperazine include dizziness, drowsiness and dry mouth. Patients might also experience anorexia, amenorrhea, and blurred vision along with insomnia and muscle weakness. The reduction of dopamine might also cause Parkinson’s type symptoms or a condition known as tardive dyskinesia. This syndrome produces involuntary movements generally seen in the face, the mouth and the extremities. Patients might experience uncontrolled drooling, chewing or unusual tongue movements. They may walk with a shuffling gait and seem to be rolling something between their fingers.
Tardive dyskinesia symptoms might be relieved with a lowered dose of the medication, but usually, once started, the behaviors continue even if the physician discontinues the trifluoperazine. The drug may also inhibit the development of red and white blood cells, in addition to platelets, causing various anemias. Persons might experience abnormal cardiac rhythms or fluid retention. Fluid retention in the brain might precipitate seizure activity, exacerbation of symptoms or an awake vegetative type state. Trifluoperazine could also produce endocrine or genitourinary malfunction or cause liver damage.