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Tardive Dyskinesia

The information in NORD’s Rare Disease Database is for educational purposes only. It should never be used for diagnostic or treatment purposes. If you have questions regarding a medical condition, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. NORD’s reports provide a brief overview of rare diseases. For more specific information, we encourage you to contact your personal physician or the agencies listed as “Resources” on this report.

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NORD is very grateful to Daniel Tarsy, MD, Professor in Neurology, Harvard Medical School; Director, Parkinson's Disease & Movement Disorders Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, for assistance in the preparation of this report.

Synonyms of Tardive Dyskinesia

Disorder Subdivisions

General Discussion

Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is an involuntary neurological movement disorder caused by the use of dopamine receptor blocking drugs that are prescribed to treat certain psychiatric or gastrointestinal conditions. Long-term use of these drugs may produce biochemical abnormalities in the area of the brain known as the striatum. The reasons that some people who take these drugs may get tardive dyskinesia, and some people do not, is unknown. Tardive dystonia is a more severe form of tardive dyskinesia in which slower twisting movements of the neck and trunk muscles are prominent.


Tardive dyskinesia is characterized by involuntary and abnormal movements of the jaw, lips and tongue. Typical symptoms include facial grimacing, sticking out the tongue, sucking or fish-like movements of the mouth. In some cases, the arms and/or legs may also be affected by involuntary rapid, jerking movements (chorea), or slow, writhing movements (athetosis). Symptoms of tardive dystonia include slower, twisting movements of larger muscles of the neck and trunk as well as the face.


Tardive dyskinesia is caused by long-term use of a class of drugs known as neuroleptics. Neuroleptic drugs are often prescribed for management of certain mental, neurological, or gastrointestinal disorders. Metoclopramide and prochlorperazine are drugs used for chronic gastrointestinal conditions that may cause tardive dyskinesia. Neuroleptic drugs block dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is a chemical that helps brain cells to communicate. Although most cases occur after a person has taken these drugs for several years, some cases may occur with shorter use of neuroleptic drugs.

Affected Populations

Tardive dyskinesia affects individuals who have been taking neuroleptic drugs for a long period of time. A high percentage of schizophrenic people who have spent long periods of time taking these drugs have a high risk of developing TD. However, neuroleptic drugs are also prescribed for some digestive disorders and other neurologic illnesses.

Related Disorders

Symptoms of the following disorders can be similar to those of Tardive dyskinesia. Comparisons may be useful for a differential diagnosis:

Huntington's Disease (also known as Huntington's Chorea ) is an inherited neurological illness. Those affected experience involuntary movements, loss of motor control, changes in gait, loss of memory, and in some cases, dementia. In general, the first symptoms of HD appear between thirty and fifty years of age. HD runs a progressive course, severely weakening patients usually over a ten to twenty year period, whereas there is no degeneration in Tardive Dyskinesia. (For more information on this disorder, choose "Huntington" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Cerebral Palsy is a disorder characterized by impaired muscle control or coordination (motor output system) resulting from injury to the brain during its early stages of development (the fetal, perinatal, or early childhood stages). There may be associated problems with sensory input, such as vision or hearing defects, central processing (such as communication), intellectual or perceptual deficits, and/or seizures. People with CP can have slow facial and tongue movements, which may resemble TD. (For more information on this disorder, choose "Cerebral Palsy" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Tourette Syndrome is a neurological movement disorder which begins in childhood between the ages of two and sixteen. The disorder is characterized by involuntary muscular movements called "tics", and uncontrollable vocal sounds. Sometimes inappropriate words may unavoidably be spoken. Tourette Syndrome is not a degenerative disorder and those affected can expect to live a normal life span. Neuroleptic drugs such as haloperidol and pimozide can be prescribed as treatments for TS, so it may sometimes be difficult to determine whether facial and tongue movements in TS patients are caused by the disorder or the drugs. (For more information on this disorder, choose "Tourette" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Dystonia is a group of complex movement disorders with various causes, treatments, progression, and symptoms. These neurological conditions are characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, which force certain parts of the body into abnormal, sometimes painful movements and positions. Dystonia is not a single disease, but a set of symptoms that often cannot be attributed to a single cause. Both genetic and non-genetic factors contribute to different forms of dystonia. The major characteristics of all forms of dystonia are twisting, repetitive writhing movements affecting particular parts of the body (for example, the neck, trunk, or arm). Tardive dystonia is a particularly severe form of tardive dyskinesia. (For more information on this disorder, choose "Dystonia" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Standard Therapies

Treatment of tardive dyskinesia initially consists of discontinuing the neuroleptic drug as soon as involuntary facial, neck, trunk, or extremity movements are identified in people taking neuroleptic drugs if this is felt to be safe psychiatrically. Use of an "atypical" neuroleptic drug is often used in place of traditional neuroleptics if felt to be psychiatrically appropriate. However, the "atypical" neuroleptic drugs are also capable of causing or perpetuating tardive dyskinesia. In some cases, physicians may be forced to reinstitute a neuroleptic drug if the tardive dyskinesia symptoms do not disappear and become very severe after medication is discontinued.

Investigational Therapies

Studies are ongoing to determine possible new drug therapies for the treatment of tardive dyskinesia. Choline, lithium, bromocriptine, baclofen, methyldopa, valproate, clonidine, propranolol, amantadine, clonazepam, and nifedipine have occasionally been helpful but in most cases do not improve dyskinesia. Tetrabenazine is often useful for symptomatic treatment of tardive dyskinesia and is currently available for use in the US. However, it carries the risk of causing or aggravating depression. Other experimental drugs are being tested to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of tardive dyskinesia. For more information about these studies, please contact the agencies listed in the Resources section of this report.

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. Government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Tollfree: (800) 411-1222
TTY: (866) 411-1010
Email: prpl@cc.nih.gov

For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:

Tardive Dyskinesia Resources

NORD Member Organizations:

(To become a member of NORD, an organization must meet established criteria and be approved by the NORD Board of Directors. If you're interested in becoming a member, please contact Susan Olivo, Membership Manager, at solivo@rarediseases.org.)

Other Organizations:


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Brasic, JR. Tardive Dyskinesia. eMedicine. Updated:January 21, 2010. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1151826-overview. Accessed on:January 19, 2012.

NINDS Tardive Dyskinesia Information Page. Updated:October 4, 2011. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tardive/tardive.htm Accessed on: January 19, 2012.

Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). Victor A. McKusick, Editor; Johns Hopkins University, Last Edit Date 3/31/09, Entry Number 272620. http://omim.org/entry/272620 Accessed on:January 19, 2012.

Report last updated: 2012/01/20 00:00:00 GMT+0