What is Akathisia, Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Akathisia, Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Akathisia, Its Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Posted on April 25th, 2024

Akathisia is a condition that, despite its complexity and significant impact on individuals, often remains under-recognized. 

This movement disorder is characterized primarily by an overwhelming urge to move constantly, paired with an inability to remain still. 

Understanding akathisia, its symptoms, causes, and potential treatments is crucial for those experiencing it, as well as for healthcare providers. 

The condition not only affects physical movements but can also influence mental health, making it a dual challenge for diagnosis and management. 

The origins of the term "akathisia" lie in the Greek word for "not to sit," which succinctly describes the restlessness experienced by sufferers. 

It is most commonly associated with certain medications, particularly those used in the treatment of mental health disorders, making it a significant concern in psychiatric care. 

However, the implications of akathisia extend beyond discomfort; it can severely impact quality of life and functionality. 

In this blog, we explore the intricacies of akathisia, offering insights into how it can be recognized and managed effectively.

What is Akathisia?

Understanding akathisia begins with recognizing its primary characteristic: a compelling need to move. This condition can manifest in anyone, though it is most often triggered by specific medications or health conditions.

Definition and Overview

Akathisia is a movement disorder that causes an incessant urge to move the legs, arms, or entire body. This urge is not just a mild discomfort but a serious sensation that can be debilitating. 

The feeling is often accompanied by anxiety, distress, and an inability to stay still, making it difficult for those affected to participate in social or work activities.

Historical Context and Importance

The concept of akathisia dates back to the early 20th century, originally identified in patients undergoing certain psychiatric treatments. Since then, its recognition has expanded across various medical fields, underscoring the need for awareness and accurate diagnosis. 

As treatments for psychiatric and neurological conditions have evolved, so has the understanding of akathisia’s causes, making it a critical area of study for improving patient care and treatment methodologies.

Symptoms of Akathisia

Akathisia presents a unique set of symptoms that can be quite distressing for those affected. The condition is primarily known for its relentless motor restlessness, but its manifestations are not limited to physical symptoms alone. 

These symptoms are crucial for timely and effective diagnosis and treatment, as they can significantly impair daily functioning and overall quality of life. 

Here, we detail the most common signs that someone might be experiencing akathisia.

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of akathisia are often the most visible and easily identifiable signs of the condition. Individuals may experience:

  • A compelling urge to move the legs, often accompanied by repetitive swinging or bouncing
  • Inability to sit still, resulting in constant shifting in chairs or frequent changes in position
  • Pacing back and forth, sometimes in an urgent and repetitive manner
  • Restless movements of the arms and hands, such as wringing or rubbing
  • Increased motor activity that seems purposeless or driven by discomfort

Psychological Symptoms

Beyond the physical symptoms, akathisia can also manifest through a range of psychological symptoms, which can exacerbate the distress experienced by sufferers. These include:

  • A sense of inner restlessness or turmoil that is not relieved by moving
  • Anxiety that is often severe and can be directly related to the restlessness
  • Irritability or a short temper, particularly in situations where movement is restricted
  • Difficulty concentrating, which can affect performance at work or school
  • Sleep disturbances, primarily due to the inability to remain still

Understanding these symptoms is essential for anyone involved in the care of individuals potentially experiencing akathisia. Early recognition can lead to quicker intervention, which can significantly alleviate the severity of symptoms and improve overall outcomes.

Causes of Akathisia

Akathisia is primarily associated with pharmacological treatments, particularly those used in psychiatric conditions. However, the causes are multifaceted and can include a range of factors, from medical conditions to medication side effects. Understanding these causes is pivotal in preventing and managing this challenging condition.

Medication-Induced Akathisia

The most common trigger for akathisia is the use of neuroleptic drugs, also known as antipsychotics. These medications, particularly the older first-generation antipsychotics, are well-documented for their potential to cause movement disorders. 

Akathisia can also occur with newer antipsychotics, though typically at lower rates. Apart from antipsychotics, other medications like antiemetics, used to treat nausea and vomiting, can also induce akathisia. 

The mechanism involves the blockade of dopamine receptors, which is believed to disrupt motor pathways and lead to symptoms.

Neurological and Medical Conditions

Certain neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries can predispose individuals to develop akathisia. These conditions can affect the areas of the brain responsible for regulating muscle control and movement, thereby increasing the risk of restlessness and motor agitation. 

Additionally, metabolic disturbances like hyperthyroidism or electrolyte imbalances are known to contribute to the development of akathisia symptoms.

Genetic Predisposition

Research has indicated that there may be a genetic component to akathisia, where individuals with specific genetic profiles may be more susceptible to developing the condition when exposed to certain medications or under specific physiological stresses. 

This area of study is still evolving, with ongoing research aimed at identifying genetic markers that could predict akathisia risk.

Treatment Options for Akathisia

Treating akathisia effectively requires a multifaceted approach, often involving both pharmacological and non-pharmacological strategies. The primary goal is to reduce symptoms while addressing the underlying causes.

Pharmacological Treatments

The first step in treating medication-induced akathisia is typically to reassess the medication regimen. This may involve reducing the dosage, discontinuing the causative agent, or switching to another medication less likely to cause akathisia. 

For cases where medication changes are not feasible or effective, additional drugs might be prescribed to counteract the symptoms. Beta-blockers, such as propranolol, are commonly used due to their ability to relieve physical symptoms of restlessness and agitation. 

Anticholinergic medications can also be effective, especially in cases associated with antipsychotic medications.

Non-Pharmacological Interventions

Alongside medication adjustments, non-pharmacological methods play a crucial role in managing akathisia. Behavioral strategies, such as relaxation techniques and physical therapies, can help alleviate the discomfort caused by constant restlessness. 

Psychological support is also vital, as dealing with chronic restlessness can be mentally exhausting and stressful. Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can provide coping mechanisms and strategies to manage both the psychological and physical aspects of akathisia.

Effective management of akathisia is a collaborative effort between healthcare providers and patients. Understanding the specific causes in each case helps tailor treatment approaches that can significantly improve the quality of life for those affected. 

Regular follow-ups and patient education are essential components of a successful treatment strategy, ensuring that adjustments can be made as needed to optimize outcomes.

Beautiful Mind Behavioral Health Services, PLLC

At Beautiful Mind Behavioral Health Services, PLLC, we specialize in providing comprehensive mental health care with a focus on personalized treatment plans that address a wide range of conditions, including akathisia. 

Our dedicated team of healthcare professionals is committed to offering the highest quality of care to each of our patients, ensuring they receive the support needed to improve their mental health and overall well-being.

Our Approach to Treating Akathisia

Our clinic utilizes the latest research and treatment methodologies to manage akathisia effectively. Understanding that each case of akathisia can be unique, we customize our treatments to the individual needs of our patients. 

This may involve adjusting medications that are known to cause akathisia, prescribing medications to alleviate symptoms, or implementing therapy sessions to help patients cope with the psychological impacts of the disorder. 

We also emphasize patient education, helping individuals understand their condition and the best practices for managing symptoms at home.

Why Choose Us?

Choosing the right healthcare provider is crucial, and at Beautiful Mind Behavioral Health Services, we ensure that our patients feel supported every step of the way. 

Our clinic is equipped with advanced medical tools and staffed by experts who are deeply committed to patient care. 

We believe in a holistic approach to treatment, which not only focuses on alleviating symptoms but also addresses the root causes of health issues to ensure long-term wellness. 


At Beautiful Mind Behavioral Health Services, PLLC, we are dedicated to providing expert care and support for those dealing with akathisia and other mental health conditions.

We encourage anyone facing challenges with akathisia to reach out to us. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact us or call us at (3 36) 438-2525, or email us at [email protected]

We are here to help you on your journey to better mental health and a more comfortable life.

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At Beautiful Mind Behavioral Health Services, we're here to listen, support, and guide you towards better mental health. Please feel free to reach out to us. Your journey to well-being begins with a simple message or call. 

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