Atypical Antipsychotic Medications in Children & Youth

on December 14, 2011

by Leah & Lorrie

Second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs), otherwise known as atypical antipsychotics (AAPs), are being used more frequently in children and youth in Canada. These medications are used for many different reasons. The most common reasons are: ADHD, mood disorders, conduct disorders or psychotic disorders. In most cases, SGAs are very helpful for many children and youth. These medications can help to reduce aggression, regulate mood, decrease behavioural difficulties and can help children and youth tell the difference between reality and imagination.

These medications, like all medications, have side effects. Recently there has been a lot of research into the type of side effects that SGAs cause. Although different SGAs cause different side effects, in general they may cause: weight gain (especially around the belly), high cholesterol, high blood sugars, high triglycerides, or high blood pressure. Because of these side effects, doctors at BC Children’s Hospital have developed a tool to help doctors who prescribe SGAs monitor these side effects. Now, when a child or youth is prescribed an SGA, the doctor will follow a number of guidelines on what to monitor. This monitoring should include: weight, height, waist circumference (distance around the belly), and blood tests. These will all be done before a patient starts the medication, called “baseline,” and at certain time intervals after starting the medication.

If there are any abnormalities found while doing this monitoring, a doctor can refer the child or youth to a speciality clinic at BC Children’s Hospital. This clinic is called the Provincial Mental Health Metabolic Program and was started to help children and youth who are taking certain types of psychiatric medications manage their side effects. The program includes a paediatrician, psychiatrist, endocrinologist, nurse, dietitian and physiotherapist/healthy living coach. This team of health professionals helps children and youth manage the side effects they are experiencing by focusing on a healthy and balanced lifestyle. The treatment for many of these side effects includes lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and physical activity which the Metabolic Program can help to support.  The team also has great tips and information for patients and their families about managing side effects that they’ve learned both through research and from other children and youth who are on these medications.

Overall, it is important to understand that SGA medications are prescribed help manage specific challenges that children and youth may be experiencing. While the side effects of these medications can be serious, children and youth can live well while being treated with them. There is a lot which can be done to help children and youth live a balanced and healthy life. Click here for more information on the Metabolic Program at BC Children’s Hospital.

Photo courtesy of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity 


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BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.