A team of researchers has developed a new tool designed to calculate which medicines are more likely to experience adverse anticholinergic effects on the body and brain. Such complications can arise from the use of various prescription and over-the-counter drugs that affect the brain by blocking a key neurotransmitter referred to as acetylcholine.
There are many types of medicines that have some degree of anticholinergic effect.
Research assessing the new tool was published in Age and Ageing.
Developing the IACT Tool
Some of the potential anticholinergic side effects include confusion, blurred vision, dizziness, and a decline in brain function. These side effects can increase the risk of falls, and they have been linked to a higher risk of dementia.
The tool developed by the researchers can calculate the harmful effects of medicines by using artificial intelligence. The online tool is called International Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden Tool (IACT), and it relies on natural language processing and chemical structure analysis to identify certain medications that have anticholinergic effects.
It is the first tool to incorporate a machine learning technique and automatically update the tool on a website portal. It assesses the anticholinergic burden by assigning a score based on reported adverse events and aligns closely with the chemical structure of the drug, while helping lead to a more accurate scoring system than any previous ones. Once the research is finished, this type of tool could help reduce risks from common medicines.
Professor Chris Fox from the University of Exeter is one of the authors of the study.
“Use of medicines with anticholinergic effects can have significant harmful effects, for example falls and confusion which are avoidable. We urgently need to reduce the harmful side effects as this can lead to hospitalization and death,” Prof. Fox says. “This new tool provides a promising avenue towards a more tailored personalized medicine approach, of ensuring the right person gets safe and effective treatment whilst avoiding unwanted anticholinergic effects.”
Potential for Widespread Use
The team surveyed a group of 110 health professionals, and 85 percent indicated that they would use a tool to assess risk of anticholinergic side effects if one was available.
Dr. Saber Sami from the University of East Anglia was another one of the authors.
“Our tool is the first to use innovative artificial intelligence technology in measures of anticholinergic burden — ultimately, once further research has been conducted the tool should support pharmacists and prescribing health professionals in finding the best treatment for patients,” Dr. Sami said.
Also involved in the work was Professor Ian Maidment from Aston University.
“I have been working in this area for over 20 years. Anticholinergic side-effects can be very debilitating for patients. We need better ways to assess these side-effects,” Prof. Maidment said.