Atropine – Uses , Dose, preparation and Side effects


Atropine - Dhatura plant - Source of Atropine


Atropine, a member of the antimuscarinic drug class, stands as a remarkable testament to the wonders of pharmacology. Its unique properties and diverse applications have made it a staple in medical practice. Let’s delve into the intricacies of this potent medication.

Class of Drug:

Atropine belongs to the antimuscarinic or parasympatholytic drug class, characterized by its ability to inhibit the effects of acetylcholine at muscarinic receptors. This inhibition results in the dominance of sympathetic nervous system activity, leading to a myriad of physiological responses.

Mechanism of Action:

Atropine’s mechanism of action unfolds as it competitively blocks muscarinic receptors, preventing acetylcholine from binding. By doing so, it disrupts parasympathetic input, resulting in increased heart rate, bronchodilation, and pupil dilation – the hallmark effects of this powerful drug.

Preparations & Receptors:

Routes of administration and the receptors affected :

  1. Routes of Administration:
    It can be administered through various routes, each chosen based on the clinical scenario and urgency:
  • Intravenous (IV):
    In emergency situations, such as bradycardia or organophosphate poisoning, atropine is often administered intravenously for rapid onset of action.
  • Intramuscular (IM):
    Intramuscular administration is another option, providing a relatively quick absorption of the drug. This route might be utilized when IV access is not readily available.
  • Subcutaneous (SC):
    In certain situations, atropine may be administered subcutaneously, though this route is less common compared to IV or IM administration.
  • Ophthalmic:
    Atropine is applied topically to the eye in ophthalmology for pupil dilation. This can be achieved through eye drops or ointments.
  1. Receptors Affected:
    Atropine primarily acts by competitively blocking muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Muscarinic receptors are part of the autonomic nervous system and are found in various organs and tissues. The effects of atropine on specific receptors include:
  • Heart (M2 receptors):
    By blocking muscarinic receptors in the heart, particularly the M2 receptors, atropine prevents the inhibitory effect of acetylcholine, leading to an increase in heart rate (positive chronotropic effect).
  • Smooth Muscle (M3 receptors):
    Atropine inhibits muscarinic receptors in smooth muscle, resulting in bronchodilation in the respiratory system and decreased gastrointestinal motility.
  • Eye (M3 receptors):
    In ophthalmology, atropine blocks muscarinic receptors in the eye’s iris sphincter muscle (M3 receptors), causing pupil dilation (mydriasis) and preventing accommodation.


Atropine finds its place in various medical scenarios. Its role in treating bradycardia, organophosphate poisoning, and during anesthesia cannot be overstated. Additionally, its use in ophthalmology for pupil dilation and in managing certain gastrointestinal conditions underscores its versatility.

Atropine, a versatile antimuscarinic drug, finds its application in various medical scenarios:

  1. Bradycardia:
    Atropine is commonly used to treat bradycardia (abnormally slow heart rate), particularly in emergency situations. Its ability to increase heart rate makes it a valuable intervention in cases of insufficient cardiac output.
  2. Organophosphate Poisoning:
    Atropine is a crucial antidote in cases of poisoning by organophosphate compounds, commonly found in pesticides and insecticides. It counteracts the toxic effects by blocking excessive acetylcholine activity.
  3. Anesthesia:
    During surgical procedures, atropine is often administered to counteract the bradycardic effects associated with certain anesthetic agents. This helps maintain a stable heart rate and prevent complications during surgery.
  4. Ophthalmology:
    Atropine is utilized in ophthalmology for pupil dilation (mydriasis). This is particularly important during eye examinations, diagnostic procedures, or in the treatment of certain eye conditions.
  5. Gastrointestinal Conditions:
    In some cases, atropine may be employed to manage certain gastrointestinal conditions. It helps reduce excessive salivation and can be used to alleviate symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
  6. Nerve Gas Exposure:
    Atropine is part of the treatment regimen for individuals exposed to nerve agents. It counteracts the effects of these chemical agents, which can lead to excessive acetylcholine release and subsequent toxicity.
  7. Sinus Bradycardia:
    Atropine may be used to address sinus bradycardia, a condition characterized by a slow heart rate originating from the sinus node. It provides a rapid but temporary increase in heart rate.


Atropinization is the medical term used to describe the process of administering atropine, a medication derived from the deadly nightshade plant, to counteract the effects of certain toxins or drugs on the body’s nervous system. This process is commonly employed in cases of organophosphate poisoning, where atropine helps to block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for various bodily functions.

Signs and Symptoms of Atropinization

Atropinization can lead to a range of signs and symptoms as the medication takes effect. These include:

  1. Tachycardia: Atropine administration can cause an increase in heart rate, known as tachycardia. This occurs due to the inhibition of the parasympathetic nervous system, which normally slows heart rate.
  2. Dry Mouth and Skin: Atropine blocks the activity of acetylcholine in sweat glands and salivary glands, leading to decreased secretion. This can result in dry mouth and dry, flushed skin.
  3. Dilated Pupils: One of the classic effects of atropine is the dilation of the pupils (mydriasis). This occurs because atropine inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system’s control over the iris sphincter muscle, allowing the pupil to dilate.
  4. Urinary Retention: Atropine can lead to urinary retention by relaxing the smooth muscle of the bladder, making it difficult to urinate.
  5. Confusion and Delirium: In higher doses, atropine can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect cognitive function, leading to confusion, delirium, and hallucinations.

Management of Atropinization:

Management of atropinization involves careful monitoring of the patient’s vital signs and symptoms, as well as the administration of atropine in appropriate doses to achieve the desired therapeutic effect while minimizing side effects. Other supportive measures may also be necessary, depending on the underlying condition being treated.


Despite its broad applicability, atropine is not without limitations. Contraindications include glaucoma, obstructive uropathy, and myasthenia gravis. Caution is warranted in patients with a history of cardiac issues, as atropine’s effects on heart rate can be profound.

Side Effects:

Atropine, while valuable in medical treatment, can induce several side effects, including:

  1. Dry Mouth:
    Atropine inhibits salivary gland secretion, leading to dryness in the mouth. This common side effect can contribute to discomfort and altered taste perception.
  2. Blurred Vision:
    The drug’s impact on the eye’s ciliary muscle can result in blurred vision, particularly for near objects. This side effect is often temporary but can affect activities requiring sharp focus.
  3. Photophobia:
    Atropine-induced pupil dilation can increase sensitivity to light (photophobia). Patients may experience discomfort in brightly lit environments.
  4. Increased Heart Rate (Tachycardia):
    Blocking muscarinic receptors in the heart can lead to an increased heart rate (tachycardia). This effect is a result of the loss of inhibitory input from the parasympathetic nervous system.
  5. Constipation:
    Atropine’s impact on smooth muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to decreased motility, resulting in constipation.
  6. Urinary Retention:
    Inhibition of muscarinic receptors in the bladder can cause urinary retention, particularly in individuals with pre-existing issues such as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
  7. Cognitive Effects:
    Atropine can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially causing central nervous system effects such as confusion, hallucinations, or delirium, especially in higher doses.
  8. Elevated Intraocular Pressure (IOP):
    Prolonged use of atropine in ophthalmic applications may lead to an increase in intraocular pressure, potentially exacerbating conditions like glaucoma.
  9. Hyperthermia:
    Atropine may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, leading to an elevation in body temperature.
  10. Allergic Reactions:
    While rare, allergic reactions to atropine can occur and may manifest as skin rash, itching, or more severe reactions such as anaphylaxis.

Poisoning and Plants:

Atropine poisoning, often linked to accidental ingestion of toxic plants like Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), manifests with severe antimuscarinic effects. Recognizing symptoms promptly is crucial for initiating appropriate treatment, including administration of physostigmine.


In conclusion, atropine’s significance in medicine cannot be overstated. From its role in cardiac emergencies to ophthalmological procedures, this antimuscarinic agent exemplifies the delicate balance between therapeutic benefits and potential risks. A nuanced understanding of its mechanism, indications, contraindications, and potential complications is imperative for healthcare professionals navigating the vast landscape of pharmacology.

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