Ativan (lorazepam) is a medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of anxiety. It also may be used to manage this symptom in patients with Huntington’s disease.

How Ativan works

Anxiety severe enough to disrupt daily functioning develops when there is an imbalance in chemical messengers or neurotransmitters in the brain. Levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which generally acts to “calm” the brain, often are lower in people who have severe anxiety.

Patients with Huntington’s disease often experience significant levels of anxiety as they are at risk of developing damage to their GABA-based brain circuits that are responsible for regulating mood and behavior.

Ativan belongs to a family of medications known as benzodiazepines. It binds to the GABA receptors found on nerve cells, enhancing GABA release in the brain. By increasing levels of GABA, Ativan helps relieve anxiety.

Ativan is considered an intermediate-acting benzodiazepine. This means that it starts acting quicker and stays in the body for a shorter time compared to long-acting benzodiazepines, but acts slower and stays in the body longer compared to short-acting benzodiazepines.

Ativan in clinical trials

Ativan has been widely used to treat anxiety in Huntington’s disease despite a lack of studies directly investigating its effect in the context of this disease.

Nevertheless, Ativan is a medication that has been well-established in the short-term management of anxiety, with most studies performed in the late 20th century. One study that compared Ativan to a placebo in 60 patients with anxiety found the medicine reduced anxiety symptoms by more than half.

Another study in 264 patients found that patients generally experienced more anxiety relief when taking Ativan than when taking placebo.

Ativan also can have significant side effects. One study that monitored elderly individuals who received a single dose of Ativan revealed that they performed poorly in memory tests and experienced lower moods compared to those who received placebo pills.

More details about Ativan

Ativan is typically prescribed for short periods of time for the quick relief of anxiety symptoms. It should not be taken long term because there is a high risk of addiction and dependency on the medication. It is important to carefully follow prescription instructions because there is a risk of fatal drug overdose.

The most common side effects of Ativan use are daytime drowsiness, weakness, forgetfulness, and unsteadiness. Because Ativan also may affect one’s ability to concentrate, patients should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery after taking this medication.

Patients taking Ativan should not stop taking the medication suddenly because doing so may trigger seizures. A safe way of stopping Ativan is to gradually reduce the daily doses of medication taken over a few weeks.

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