OLANZAPINE (‘Zyprexa’)
O - lan - za - peen
Why have I been prescribed olanzapine?
Olanzapine is used to treat schizophrenia, psychosis and similar conditions.
When they have schizophrenia, many people hear voices talking to them or about them. They may also become suspicious
or paranoid. Some people also have problems with their thinking and feel that other people can read their thoughts. These
are called "positive symptoms". Olanzapine can help to relieve these symptoms. Many people with schizophrenia also
experience "negative symptoms". They feel tired and lacking in energy and may become quite inactive and withdrawn.
Olanzapine may help relieve these symptoms as well.
Olanzapine is sometimes prescribed for people who have had bad side effects with older types of antipsychotics. Older
medications – typical antipsychotics – often cause strange movements and shaking. Olanzapine does not usually cause
these effects. Older drugs also increase levels of the hormone prolactin. This can cause a loss of sexual drive and
impotence and have an effect on a woman’s periods. Olanzapine seems not to cause these effects. Olanzapine is also
used to help a number of other problems, such as mania, hypomania, mood disorders and some other conditions.
What exactly is olanzapine?
Olanzapine is one of a group of medicines used to treat schizophrenia and similar disorders. These illnesses are
sometimes referred to as psychoses, hence the name given to this group of medicines which is the “antipsychotics”. They
are sometimes also called the neuroleptics or (incorrectly) major tranquillisers.
Olanzapine is a newer type of antipsychotic. It probably works in a different way and has different side effects to the older
ones. Olanzapine has been available since 1996. It is often prescribed for people who have suffered bad side effects with
the older antipsychotics. It may also work in some people where other antipsychotics have not helped very much or in
people who have symptoms similar to depression (negative symptoms). The trade or brand name of olanzapine is
Is olanzapine safe to take?
It is usually safe to have olanzapine regularly as prescribed by your doctor, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Let your doctor
know if any of the following apply to you, as extra care may be needed:
a) if you have epilepsy, diabetes, glaucoma, or Parkinson’s disease, or suffer from heart, prostate, kidney or liver trouble;
b) if you are taking any other medication. This includes medicines from your pharmacist, such as antihistamines, or if you
smoke heavily;
c) if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or wish to become pregnant.
What is the usual dose of olanzapine?
The usual dose of olanzapine is between 10mg and 15mg a day, lower if you are older. The usual maximum dose of
olanzapine is 20mg a day, although sometimes higher doses may be necessary.
How should I take my olanzapine?
Look at your medicine packet - it has your doctor's instructions on it. Follow these directions carefully. Always take your
tablets with a full glass of water. Never be tempted to change the dose yourself. Normally medicines are supplied with an
information leaflet for you to read.
What should I do if I forget to take a dose?
Never change your dose without checking with your doctor. If you forget a dose, take it as soon as you remember, as long
as it is within a few hours of the usual time.
What will happen to me when I start taking my olanzapine?
Antipsychotics do not work straight away. For example, it may take several days or even weeks for some of the symptoms
to reduce. To begin with, most people find that this medication will help them feel more relaxed and calm. Later, after one
or two weeks, other symptoms should begin to improve.
Unfortunately, you might get some side effects before you start to feel any better. Most side effects should go away after a
few weeks. Look at the table below. It tells you what to do if you get any of the usual side effects. Not everyone will get the
side effects shown. There are many other possible side effects. Ask your pharmacist, doctor or nurse if you are worried
about anything else that you think might be a side effect.
Side effect What is it? What should I do if it happens to me?
DROWSINESS Feeling sleepy or sluggish. It can last for a
few hours after taking your dose.
Don’t drive or use machinery. Ask your doctor if you can take
your olanzapine at a different time of the day.
WEIGHT GAIN Eating more and putting on weight,
especially just after you start the
Avoid fatty foods like chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks. A diet
full of vegetables and fibre will usually help, as will physical
activities such as walking. If it becomes a problem or you are
worried, ask to see a dietician.
CONSTIPATION Feeling "bunged up" inside. You can't pass
a motion or stool.
Eat more fibre e.g. bran, fruit and vegetables. Do more
walking. Make sure you drink plenty of fluid. A mild laxative
from a pharmacy might help.
DRY MOUTH Not much saliva or spit. Sugar-free boiled sweets, chewing gum or eating citrus fruits
usually helps. If not, your doctor can give you a mouth spray.
A change in medicine or dose may be possible.
PERIPHERAL OEDEMA When your ankles swell up. Discuss this with your doctor when you see them next.
A low blood pressure. You may feel faint
when you stand up.
Try not to stand up too quickly. If you feel dizzy, don’t drive.
This dizziness is not dangerous
Your liver is not working as normal. You
should not feel any symptoms. This is only
discovered if your doctor does a blood test.
Continue to take your olanzapine. Your liver should return to
normal after a while. Your doctor will probably want to do
regular blood tests to make sure your liver is O.K. Serious
liver problems don’t occur with olanzapine, so don’t worry too
PHOTOSENSITIVITY Skin goes blotchy in the sun. Avoid direct sunlight or sun-lamps. Use a high factor sun
block cream.
What about alcohol?
It is officially recommended that people taking olanzapine should not drink alcohol. This is because both olanzapine and alcohol can
cause drowsiness. If the two are taken at the same time, severe drowsiness can occur. This can lead to falls or accidents. As well as
this, drinking alcohol often makes psychosis worse. Excessive drinking is especially likely to do this. Once people are used to taking
medication, they can sometimes drink alcohol in small amounts without any harm. Avoid alcohol altogether for the first one or two
months. After this, if you want a drink, try a glass of your normal drink and see how you feel. If this doesn’t make you feel drowsy, then
it is probably OK to drink small amounts. It pays to be very cautious because alcohol affects people in different ways, especially when
they are taking medication.
Don't stop taking your olanzapine because you fancy a drink. Discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor, pharmacist or
nurse. If you do drink alcohol, drink only small amounts. Never drink any alcohol and drive.
When I feel better, can I stop taking it?
No. If you stop taking olanzapine, your original symptoms may return, but this may not be for 3 to 6 months after you stop the drug. You
and your doctor should decide together when you can come off it. Most people need to be on olanzapine for quite a long time,
sometimes years. This is not thought to be harmful. Olanzapine is not addictive.
Remember, leaflets like this can only describe some of the effects of medication. You may find other
books or leaflets also useful. If you have access to the internet you may find a lot of information
there as well, but be careful, as internet based information is not always accurate.
2001 United Kingdom Psychiatric Pharmacy Group www.ukppg.org.uk
This leaflet is to help you understand about your medicine. It is not an official manufacturer's Patient Information Leaflet.
For more information call the UKPPG National Telephone Helpline, 11am to 5pm, Monday to Friday on 020 7919 2999 or
visit www.nmhct.nhs.uk/pharmacy
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