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Pharmacotherapy. 1996 Nov-Dec;16(6 Pt 2):152S-159S; discussion 166S-168S.

Sedation in acute and chronic agitation.

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  • 1New York University School of Medicine, New York 10016, USA.


Agitation is a nonspecific constellation of symptoms seen in a variety of psychiatric disorders, ranging from psychotic exacerbations in patients with schizophrenia to behavioral disturbances associated with organic factors. Its treatment must be individualized and based on the etiology of the psychomotor disturbance. Certain categories of drugs are broadly effective. Sedation and control of disruptive and dangerous behavior are the initial goals in stabilizing acutely agitated patients. Sedation is necessary during the lag period before antipsychotic and mood-stabilizing drugs take effect. Barbiturates and chlorpromazine, initially given to control agitated behavior, are largely supplanted by higher-potency antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and, recently, a combination of these two agents. Agitation is generally controlled within hours to days, whereas remission of affective or psychotic symptoms often requires weeks to months. Once remission is obtained, sedation is no longer desired and may be a barrier to optimal patient function and compliance. Thus, for long-term treatment, strategies are used to minimize sedation, such as reducing dosages, changing administration to bedtime, or adding antidepressants or stimulants where appropriate.

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