Anticholinergics for Overactive Bladder Therapy: Central Nervous System Effects

Michael Chancellor, Timothy Boone

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


The mainstay of pharmacological treatment of overactive bladder (OAB) is anticholinergic therapy using muscarinic receptor antagonists (tertiary or quaternary amines). Muscarinic receptors in the brain play an important role in cognitive function, and there is growing awareness that antimuscarinic OAB drugs may have adverse central nervous system (CNS) effects, ranging from headache to cognitive impairment and episodes of psychosis. This review discusses the physicochemical and pharmacokinetic properties of OAB antimuscarinics that affect their propensity to cause adverse CNS effects, as observed in phase III clinical trials and in specific investigations on cognitive function and sleep architecture. PubMed/MEDLINE was searched for "OAB" plus "muscarinic antagonists" or "anticholinergic drug." Additional relevant literature was identified by examining the reference lists of papers identified through the search. Preclinical and clinical trials in adults were assessed, focusing on the OAB antimuscarinics approved in the United States. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) plays a key role in protecting the CNS, but it is penetrable. The lipophilic tertiary amines, particularly oxybutynin, are more likely to cross the BBB than the hydrophilic quaternary amine trospium chloride, for which there are very few reports of adverse CNS effects. In fact, in 2008 the US product labels for oral oxybutynin were modified to include the potential for anticholinergic CNS events and a warning to monitor patients for adverse CNS effects. Even modest cognitive impairment in the elderly may negatively affect independence; therefore, selection of an antimuscarinic OAB drug with reduced potential for CNS effects is advisable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-174
Number of pages8
JournalCNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Antimuscarinic drugs
  • Blood-brain barrier
  • CNS effects
  • Overactive bladder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology


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