Anticholinergics: theoretical and clinical overview

Prasad S. Nishtala, Mohammed Saji Salahudeen, Sarah N. Hilmer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

90 Citations (SciVal)


Introduction: Anticholinergics are a class of medicines that block the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, in the brain and peripheral tissues. Medicines with anticholinergic activity are widely prescribed for and used by older people for various medical conditions. One-third to one-half of the medicines commonly prescribed for older people have anticholinergic activity. Several studies have reported anticholinergic burden to be a predictor of cognitive and functional impairments in older people. Areas covered: This article exemplifies the theoretical and clinical aspects of medicines with anticholinergic activity, including pharmacology (definition of medicines that possess anticholinergic activity, antimuscarinic receptors, therapeutic and adverse effects), epidemiology, measures and effects of cumulative anticholinergic burden in older adults, and clinical recommendations. In addition, the gaps in the literature have been identified for future research. Expert opinion: Many medicines that are commonly prescribed to older people have a degree of anticholinergic activity that can contribute to anticholinergic burden. Anticholinergic burden, measured in several ways that consider number, dose and/or degree of anticholinergic activity of medicines, has shown to be a predictor of adverse health and functional outcomes. The anticholinergic burden on older people should be minimised by avoiding, reducing dose and deprescribing medicines with anticholinergic activity where clinically possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-768
Number of pages16
JournalExpert Opinion on Drug Safety
Issue number6
Early online date30 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2016


  • acetylcholine
  • Anticholinergic
  • anticholinergic activity
  • anticholinergic adverse effect
  • anticholinergic burden
  • anticholinergic mechanism
  • anticholinergic medicine
  • anticholinergic overview
  • anticholinergic risk scale
  • antimuscarinic
  • muscarinic receptor
  • older people

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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