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Tardive dyskinesia (TD)

Find information on what tardive dyskinesia is, what causes it and what you can do to manage it.

What are the signs of tardive dyskinesia?

The main sign of tardive dyskinesia (TD) is making movements which:

  • you do not normally make
  • are totally out of your control.

Normally, the first sign of TD is irregular tongue movements. These might be very small and you might not even notice them at first.

"I first experienced finger and small muscle twitches and spasms which gradually got worse."

What symptoms can tardive dyskinesia cause?

Some people have mild symptoms that they hardly notice, while others might find symptoms severely impact their day-to-day life. How much the symptoms of TD affect you can change over time. It may cause the following symptoms in your face or body, or both.

Jerky movements

These are irregular movements which are not rhythmic. For example:

  • lip smacking
  • moving your mouth, jaw or tongue
  • tapping or moving your hands or feet
  • movement in your hips
  • movement in your upper body
  • blinking your eyes a lot
  • puffing out your cheeks
  • making noises or facial expressions you cannot control.

Slow movements

These are slow and flowing movements. For example:

  • writhing or squirming
  • wiggling or twisting your fingers, arms, legs, neck or tongue.

Muscle spasms

These are movements where your muscles suddenly tighten. They might last for a short time or longer periods. For example:

  • making grunting noises
  • having difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • changes to your posture.

You might also hear this called tardive dystonia. For more information, you can visit the Dystonia Society website.

"I had neck stiffness for two weeks and then developed a twitch in my right arm. This quickly developed into both arms cramping regularly. My arm would cramp and spasm and my thumb would end up touching my shoulder."

It's really important to notice signs and symptoms early, as this can reduce the chance of TD becoming more severe. If you're taking antipsychotic drugs and experiencing any of these signs, speak to a doctor as soon as possible – even if the symptoms seem mild, or you're not sure what they are.

​​Similar conditions and diagnoses

The symptoms of TD are similar to some other physical health conditions that can develop in adults. It's important to rule out these conditions so you can get the right treatment. These conditions include:

If you have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, you may have experienced unusual movements before taking any medication. This may include moving your legs and arms a lot or being restless. This might make it hard to recognise or pick out the symptoms of TD.

This information was published in December 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References and bibliography available on request.

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