Benzodiazepines for neuroleptic-induced acute akathisia

Akathisia is a common and distressing adverse effect of many antipsychotic drugs. It is characterised by restlessness and mental unease, which can be intense. It is associated with patterns of restless, including rocking, walking on the spot when standing, shuffling, or swinging one leg on the other when sitting. People may constantly pace up and down in an attempt to relieve the sense of unrest. Several strategies have been used to decrease akathisia, and this review is one in a series over viewing the effects of drug treatments. Evidence for the use of benzodiazepines is so limited that no firm treatment recommendations are possible, although there may be some effects that are worthy of further investigation.

Authors' conclusions: 

Over a short follow-up period, the use of benzodiazepines may reduce the symptoms of antipsychotic-induced acute akathisia. This review highlights the need for well designed, conducted and reported clinical trials to address the claims of open studies.

Read the full abstract...

Neuroleptic-induced akathisia is one of the most common and distressing early-onset adverse effects of antipsychotic drugs, being associated with poor compliance with treatment, and thus, ultimately, to an increase risk of relapse. This review assesses the role of benzodiazepines in the pharmacological treatment of this problem.


To determine the effects of benzodiazepines versus placebo for people with neuroleptic-induced acute akathisia.

Search strategy: 

Biological Abstracts (January 1982-March 1999), The Cochrane Library (Issue 3 1999), The Cochrane Schizophrenia Group's Register (May 2001), EMBASE (January 1980-March 1999), LILACS (January 1982-March 1999), MEDLINE (January 1964-March 1999), PsycLIT (January 1974-March 1999), and SCISEARCH were searched. Further references were sought from published trials and their authors.

Selection criteria: 

All randomised clinical trials comparing benzodiazepines with placebo for people with antipsychotic-induced acute akathisia.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers, working independently, selected, quality assessed and extracted data. These data were then analysed on an intention-to-treat basis. For homogeneous dichotomous data the fixed effects relative risk (RR), the 95% confidence intervals (CI) and, where appropriate, the number needed to treat (NNT) were calculated on an intention-to-treat basis. For continuous data, reviewers calculated weighted mean differences.

Main results: 

Two small (total N=27) randomised controlled trials were included. By seven to 14 days, there was a reduction in symptoms for those patients receiving clonazepam compared with placebo (2 RCTs, N=26, RR 0.09 CI 0.01 to 0.6, NNT 1.2 CI 0.9 to 1.5). No significant difference was found for adverse events (2 RCTs, N=26, RR 3.00 CI 0.2 to 62) or the need for anticholinergic medication (2 RCTs, N=26, RR 1.56 CI 0.9 to 2.7). No one left the two studies early. Data on mental, social and family outcomes could not be pooled and there was little or no data on user satisfaction, deaths, violence, criminal behaviour and costs.