Cholinergic drugs are medications that produce the same effects as the parasympathetic nervous system.
Cholinergic drugs produce the same effects as acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is the most common neurohormone of the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the peripheral nervous system responsible for the every day work of the body. While the sympathetic nervous system acts during times of excitation, the parasympathetic system deals with everyday activities such as salivation, digestion, and muscle relaxation.
The cholinergic drugs may be used in several ways. The cholinergic muscle stimulants are used to diagnose and treat myathenia gravis, a disease that causes severe muscle weakness. This class of drugs includes ambenonium chloride (Mytelase), edrophonium chloride (Tensilon), neostigmine (Prostigmine), and piridogstimina (Mestinón). These drugs are also widely used in surgery, both to reduce the risk of urinary retention, and to reverse the effects of the muscle relaxant drugs that are used in surgery.
Cholinergic drugs are also used in control of glaucoma, a disease that is caused by increased pressure inside the eye. The most common drugs used for this purpose are demecarium (Humorsol) and echthiophate (Phospho-line iodide).
Cholinergic drugs usually act in one of two ways. Some directly mimic the effect of acetylcholine, while others block the effects of acetylcholinesterase. Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that destroys naturally occurring acetylcholine. By blocking the enzyme, the naturally occurring acetylcholine has a longer action.
Cholinergic drugs are available only by prescription. They may be available as eye drops, capsules, tablets, or injections.
Cholinergic drugs should be avoided when the patient has any sort of obstruction in the urinary or digestive tracts, such a a tumor, or severe inflammation which is causing blockage.
The effects of the cholinergic drugs are to produce the same effects as stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. These effects include slowing of the heartbeat, increases in normal secretions including the
The possible adverse effects of cholinergic drugs are:
- slow heart beat, possibly leading to cardiac arrest
- muscle weakness, muscle cramps, and muscle pain
- weak breathing, inability to breath
- increased stomach acid and saliva
- nausea and vomiting
- dizziness, drowsiness, and headache
Beyond the Limits: A Self Portrait of Myasthenia Gravis. Susanville, CA: Palette-Publishing, March 1994.
"Classic Papers in Glaucoma." Archives of Ophthalmology (March 2001).
"Congenital myasthenic syndromes: recent advances." Archives of Neurology (February 1999).
Samuel Uretsky, PharmD
Cholinergic—Nerves that are stimulated by acetylcholine.
Myasthenia gravis—a disease characterized by progressive weakness and exhaustibility of voluntary muscles without atrophy or sensory disturbance and caused by an autoimmune attack on acetylcholine receptors at neuromuscular junctions.
Parasympathetic nervous system—the part of the nervous system that contains chiefly cholinergic fibers, that tends to induce secretion, to increase the tone and contractility of smooth muscle, and to slow the heart rate.