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Abilify Side Effects in Children

author image Boyd Bergeson
Boyd Bergeson has been writing since 2000 and has contributed to published research with the National Institute of Health and The Indian Health Board. Bergeson is currently a mental health professional and has worked as a university instructor, senior medical research assistant, textbook editor, and bicycle shop owner. He has a Master of Science in sociology from Portland State University.
Abilify Side Effects in Children
Abilify has several side effects in children. Photo Credit: CCaetano/iStock/Getty Images

Abilify, clinically known as aripiprazole, is a medication used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Abilify was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002 and has been studied extensively regarding effectiveness and adverse side effects. It regulates dopamine and serotonin levels in brain. Abilify can have different side effects depending on the condition that it was prescribed for. Children do not have a fully developed blood-brain barrier, and therefore, neuroleptics such as Abilify can cause a different range of side effects compared to adult patients.

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Sleep and Energy Problems

In the October 2007 issue of "Schizophrenia Bulletin," Dr. Sanjiv Kumra and associates found that somnolence and fatigue are the first and third most commonly reported side effects in children taking Abilify. Somnolence refers to the state of being drowsy or the strong desire to sleep and occurred in as much as 23 percent of children taking Abilify. Fatigue is the sense of feeling weak, tired and low energy and occurs in around 11 percent of children taking Abilify. According to, children also commonly experience insomnia, sedation and other sleep-wake related side effects. Medications used to regulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin often produce side effects that disrupt sleep and energy levels. Parents can help their children minimize these side effects by providing a consistently healthy diet and a regular exercise routine.

Motor Dysfunction

The second most reported pediatric side effect, according to the same study by Dr. Sanjiv Kumra and associates, is motor dysfunction, clinically known as extrapyramidal disorder. Around 20 percent of children and adolescents reported motor movement disturbances. Dr. Edward Freeman and Elizabeth Pulsifer-Anderson at, describe several motor movement disturbances caused by neuroleptics such as Abilify. These can include neck and spine displacement; gait and walking disorders; irregular oral and facial movements; uncontrollable finger and limb movements; eye twitching; and irregular vocalizations, breathing and swallowing. These symptoms are usually dose dependent and often become worse over time, and can eventually develop into a more severe and chronic version called tardive dyskinesia.

Increased Suicide Risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates that antidepressants, including Abilify, come with a black-box warning, informing pediatric patients of an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior. In addition, child and adolescent patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are also at a higher risk of suicide compared to the general population. The risk of suicidal thinking and behavior dramatically drops off after age 24. Parents and patients should be advised about weighing the risk of suicide with the clinical need for Abilify. Children on Abilify should work with a mental health counselor for the first several months to monitor any suicidal thinking.

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