Doctors prescribe anticholinergic drugs to treat a variety of conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bladder conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

There are many different types of anticholinergic drug, but they all work by blocking the action of acetylcholine, a type of neurotransmitter. Blocking this neurotransmitter inhibits involuntary muscle movements and various bodily functions.

Only a doctor can determine which anticholinergics are right for a person and how long the treatment should last.

In this article, learn more about anticholinergic drugs, their uses, and the possible side effects.

What is an anticholinergic?

anticholinergic drugs
Anticholinergic drugs block the action of acetylcholine.

Anticholinergics are a type of medication that blocks the action of a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger in the brain, called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is responsible for transferring signals between certain cells that affect specific bodily functions.

The medication blocks acetylcholine from causing involuntary muscle movements in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, and other areas of the body.

As anticholinergics can affect a variety of functions, including digestion, urination, salivation, and movement, they can help treat many conditions.


Anticholinergics can help treat various health conditions, including:

  • COPD
  • overactive bladder and incontinence
  • gastrointestinal disorders, such as diarrhea
  • poisoning due to some insecticides and poisonous mushrooms
  • symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as abnormal involuntary muscle movement
  • asthma
  • dizziness
  • motion sickness

Doctors may also prescribe anticholinergics as muscle relaxants. These drugs can be useful during surgeries too, as they aid relaxation, keep the heartbeat normal, and lower salivation.

Some people use anticholinergics off-label for excessive sweating.

List of anticholinergics

Different types of anticholinergic drug can treat different conditions or symptoms. These medications are only available with a doctor’s prescription.

Anticholinergics include:

  • atropine
  • belladonna alkaloids
  • benztropine mesylate
  • clidinium
  • cyclopentolate
  • darifenacin
  • dicyclomine
  • fesoterodine
  • flavoxate
  • glycopyrrolate
  • homatropine hydrobromide
  • hyoscyamine
  • ipratropium
  • orphenadrine
  • oxybutynin
  • propantheline
  • scopolamine
  • methscopolamine
  • solifenacin
  • tiotropium
  • tolterodine
  • trihexyphenidyl
  • trospium

Side effects

Man looking anxious at work
Side effects of anticholinergics can include confusion, hallucinations, drowsiness, and delirium.

With a suitable prescription, anticholinergics are usually safe, but some people do experience side effects.

The potential side effects depend on the individual’s medical history, as well as the dosage and specific type of anticholinergics that they take.

Possible side effects include:

  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • memory problems
  • dry mouth
  • blurry vision
  • constipation
  • drowsiness
  • sedation
  • trouble urinating
  • delirium
  • decreased sweating
  • decreased saliva

Some research has linked the long-term use of anticholinergics in older people to an increased risk of dementia. A doctor should consider a person’s age, health conditions, and other medications before prescribing these drugs.

It is essential to remain hydrated when taking anticholinergics because they decrease sweating, which may increase the risk of heatstroke.

Taking anticholinergics with alcohol or taking too many anticholinergics can result in overdose symptoms, such as:

  • dizziness
  • extreme drowsiness
  • fever
  • severe hallucinations
  • confusion
  • trouble breathing
  • clumsiness and slurred speech
  • fast heartbeat
  • flushing and warmth of the skin

An overdose may also result in death.

If anyone notices these signs in themselves or another person, they should seek emergency medical attention.


Anticholinergics are medications that block the action of acetylcholine, a type of neurotransmitter. As a result, they stop involuntary muscle movements and various bodily functions.

Anticholinergic drugs can help treat a variety of conditions, including COPD, an overactive bladder, gastrointestinal disorders, and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Anticholinergics are only available via prescription, so it is best to speak to a doctor about which type can help treat specific conditions. A doctor can also explain the risks and side effects.