What psychiatric medication can cause overheating and why?

Two of the most commonly known types of psychiatric medication that can lead to overheating in hot weather are tricyclic antidepressants and antipsychotics. These kinds of medications can impair the temperature regulating area of the brain, the hypothalamus, from working 100% as it should.

The hypothalamus needs to be functioning properly to keep us cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather so that our internal temperature doesn’t go above 37 degrees or below 36.

If you’re taking either of these types of medication it is really important to know if they have the side effect of temperature dysregulation, especially when it is as hot as it has been over the past week.

 Tricyclic or cyclic antidepressants were some of the first developed and widely prescribed in psychiatry and many newer ones have come to replace them that have less side effects, however they may still be prescribed for those who have been resistant to the newer antidepressants.

Tricyclic antidepressants that are prescribed in the UK include:

  • amitriptyline
  • imipramine
  • doxepin
  • mianserin
  • trazodone

Unlike with antidepressants, most antipsychotics have the potential to impact how you regulate your temperature, especially in very hot weather. It is important however to be aware that just because someone does not have a diagnosis of schizophrenia or psychosis doesn’t mean they aren’t taking an antipsychotic.

If a friend, loved one or colleague mentions that they’re struggling due to taking antipsychotic medication be sure to not judge, be accepting and careful not to add to the already existing stigma that can come with taking antipsychotic medication.

As well as schizophrenia and psychosis, antipsychotic medication is also frequently prescribed for bipolar disorder, major depression and personality disorders such as dissociative identity disorder and borderline personality disorder (sometimes known as emotionally unstable personality disorder).

With all this in mind, it’s a good idea to find out if the medication you are taking has temperature dysregulation as a side effect. You can usually find this out online, or if you have a psychiatric nurse that you see regularly you may be able to talk to them about how to manage this side effect in the current hot weather.

Things you can do for yourself at home to avoid overheating:

  • Don’t overexert yourself in hot weather
  • Avoid direct sun during the hottest times of the day, find somewhere cool to sit inside
  • Wear light and breathable clothing if possible
  • Drink more water and if you’re out and about take water with you
  • Snack on foods such as fruit and lightly salted nuts to regulate your blood sugar and salt levels
  • If you’re at home or somewhere comfortable a cool wet flannel on the back of your neck can help to regulate temperature, submerging your feet in cool water can also do this
  • Sports drinks that contain sodium can help your body to retain fluids which also helps regulate your internal temperature

If you personally don’t take tricyclic antidepressants or antipsychotic medication but know someone who does, it is also a good idea to be aware of these preventative measures, as well as being aware of what overheating and heatstroke can look like.

Signs of overheating as a result of these medications can be, irritability, profuse sweating, dizziness, headaches, nausea and cramps. The more extreme version of this is heatstroke in which immediate medical attention is necessary. Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature excesses 40 degrees and can look like confusion, lethargy, seizures, rapid pulse and heartbeat and in extreme circumstances a coma.

Although overheating and heatstroke can sound really scary, it is easy to avoid if you follow the advice above and make a little more effort to take care of yourself and each other whilst we are experiencing hot weather.