What Are Anticholinergic Drugs?

Anticholinergic drugs, such as Artane and Cogentin, block the actions of acetylcholine. Normally acetyl-choline slows your heart, constricts your pupils, con-tracts your bladder, and increases salivation, gut motility, and sweating. Blocking acetylcholine in the periphery (outside the brain) can have both good and bad effects. The good effects include stopping you from drooling and relaxing an overactive bladder. The bad effects include increased heart rate, constipation, and blurred vision.

Central brain effects of anticholinergic drugs relieve tremor. In the basal ganglia, acetylcholine acts as a chemical neurotransmitter and can function as a “brake” on dopamine. Anticholinergic drugs decrease acetylcholine and in effect “increase” dopamine. Side effects of anti-cholinergic drugs include dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, confusion, disorientation, memory loss, and hallucinations. Older patients (70 and over) are more susceptible to these side effects.