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Anticholinergics: theoretical and clinical overview

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 17:22 authored by Nishtala, PS, Mohammed SalahudeenMohammed Salahudeen, Hilmer, SN

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.


Publication title

Expert opinion on drug safety










School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology


Ashley Publications

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Evaluation of health outcomes