Neuroleptic malignant syndrome develops in a very small number of people who are given certain types of drugs.
Symptoms include a dangerously high body temperature, muscle rigidity, and agitation.
Doctors base the diagnosis on the person's symptoms and on what they find during a physical examination.
Treatment involves stopping the drug, reducing body temperature, and providing support in an intensive care unit.
(See also Overview of Heat Disorders.)
Neuroleptic malignant syndrome develops in a small number of people who are treated with antipsychotic or antiemetic drugs (see table Drugs That Can Cause Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome), usually within the first few weeks of treatment. The risk of developing the syndrome varies between 0.02% and 3% depending on many factors. The syndrome is most common among men who, because they are agitated, are given rapidly increased doses of antipsychotics or high doses initially. Doctors are not sure why the syndrome develops.
Drugs That Can Cause Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome
Antiemetics (anti-vomiting drugs)
Symptoms usually develop over a few days and include
Doctors suspect neuroleptic malignant syndrome when people taking a drug known to cause neuroleptic malignant syndrome develop characteristic symptoms and physical examination findings, particularly severe muscle rigidity. There are no tests that confirm the diagnosis. However, because other disorders (for example, meningitis and sepsis) can cause similar symptoms, doctors often do tests for those disorders. Doctors also do blood and urine tests to look for muscle protein breakdown and kidney injury.
People with neuroleptic malignant syndrome are usually treated in an intensive care unit. The drug that caused neuroleptic malignant syndrome is stopped and fever is controlled, usually by wetting (misting) and blowing air over the skin or by using special cooling blankets. People who are very agitated are given sedatives by vein. Other treatments of possible but unproven benefit are often used because of the severity of this condition. These include dantrolene (a muscle relaxant, to reduce fever and muscle damage) and bromocriptine (to improve nerve function).