Baclofen is a generic drug that is prescribed to relax skeletal muscles. Baclofen is similar to the naturally-occurring brain neurotransmitter GABA, which is released in the brain and the central nervous system to relax the activity of other nerves. Since baclofen acts similarly to GABA, it’s believed that it blocks certain nerve activity that controls skeletal muscle contraction and relaxation. Specifically, baclofen can be used to treat skeletal muscle contraction, muscle clonus, pain from disorders like multiple sclerosis and rigidity. For the most part, baclofen is taken orally, but it can also be injected into the spinal cord for patients with severe cases of spasticity. Off-label uses of baclofen include managing alcohol and drug dependence.
The most common side effects of baclofen include weakness, drowsiness, dizziness and headache. More severe baclofen side effects include nausea, vomiting, low pressure, constipation, confusion and seizures. Some people may experience respiratory depression, sleep disturbances and urinary retention. If someone suddenly stops using baclofen, they may have seizures and hallucinations. If someone is using the spinal injection version of baclofen and they suddenly stop using it, side effects can include rebound muscle rigidity and spasticity, high fever and a condition called rhabdomyolysis -a muscle breakdown that can cause organ failure or death. Rare baclofen side effects include abnormal liver function tests, bloody urine and chest pain. Some people may also experience a false sense of well-being or mild euphoria when using this drug -which is why it has a potential for abuse.
Baclofen can also adversely interact with other medications. Patients shouldn’t use baclofen with tricyclic antidepressants before talking to their doctor because it can cause muscle weakness. If baclofen is combined with monoamine oxidase inhibitors, it can cause depression of brain function and low blood pressure. If baclofen is used by people with diabetes, it can increase blood sugar levels.
Since baclofen is believed to act like GABA in the brain, it has a potential for abuse. People who abuse baclofen may find the relaxing properties of the drug to be desirable. The effects of baclofen can be heightened when it’s combined with other drugs that depress the central nervous system, which increases the risk of dangerous or deadly side effects. Some of the general signs of baclofen abuse are difficult to distinguish from side effects resulting from normal use, such as dizziness, weakness, and drowsiness. Other signs of baclofen abuse can include central nervous system depression, insomnia, and fatigue.
Baclofen abuse can begin when someone has a legitimate prescription for the drug. Then, over time, someone may show signs of abuse, such as taking higher doses than prescribed or taking baclofen more often than prescribed. People who abuse baclofen may combine it with other substances, use it without a prescription, or use baclofen in any way outside prescribing instructions. Baclofen abuse can increase the likelihood of addiction and dependence.
Baclofen addiction and dependence can lead to an overdose. An overdose is one of the many symptoms of baclofen abuse and can include hypothermia, coma, slow breathing, or respiratory arrest and seizures. Other symptoms of baclofen abuse related to an overdose can include slowed heart rate or other changes in heart muscle conduction. People who have taken too much baclofen may show outward signs like vertigo, problems breathing, and a loss of consciousness.
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