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Baclofen is a generic medication commonly used to manage muscle spasms secondary to certain issues, such as spinal cord-related spasticity and multiple sclerosis. Most people use it orally several times daily to relax the muscles, while others administer it through an implantable pump. Experts are careful about prescribing it to first-timers and usually begin them on the lowest possible dose to effectively reduce the risk of any adversities. Regardless of all precautions, many people develop baclofen side effects, which may vary in intensity.
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In addition to causing various long- and short-term side effects, baclofen use has also been associated with a risk of dependence and withdrawal. Because the medication regulates the GABA receptors in the central nervous system, many people may become dependent, reinforcing their already-existing side effects. Moreover, such people also struggle to get off baclofen even if they no longer require it, further contributing to the damage. People who have recently started using Baclofen for a medical reason or are abusing it for recreational purposes must educate themselves regarding these possible side effects to ensure their safety and understand when to seek help.
What are the Most Common Side Effects of Baclofen?
Because of being a prescription drug, many people are under the impression that baclofen is safe to use and incapable of causing any side effects. However, the truth is these side effects may occur even in people who are using the medication exactly as prescribed. Fortunately, most of these side effects are minor and generally do not require any medical attention. Moreover, some of them also leave on their own once the body adjusts to the new medication. A healthcare provider can also guide users about how to reduce or prevent some of these side effects.
Mentioned below are the most common baclofen side effects in adults:
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded when getting up suddenly from a lying or sitting position
- Increased need to urinate
- Passing urine more often
- Trouble sleeping
- Unusual weakness or tiredness
Less commonly, some people using baclofen may experience the following side effects:
- Stuffy nose
- Muscle or joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Stomach pain or discomfort
- Weight gain
Most of the side effects mentioned above will likely resolve on their own and hardly need any medical attention. However, experts strongly advise all baclofen users to immediately get themselves checked if using baclofen is causing them to have one or more of the following:
- Chest pain
- Bloody or dark urine
- Clumsiness, unsteadiness, or trembling
- Problems with muscle control
- False sense of well-being
- Pounding heartbeat
- Mental depression or other mood changes
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears
- Skin rash or itching
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there
- Slurry speech
- Swelling of the ankles
- Unusual excitement
- Unexplained muscle stiffness
What are the Side Effects of Baclofen? The Risk of Abuse and Dependence
Misuse describes a situation in which you are not taking a medication in a way prescribed by a healthcare practitioner. In the case of baclofen, many people are using it for legitimate medical reasons as guided by their doctors. At the same time, many more have never been prescribed this medication and are purely using it to enjoy its sedative effects. However, remember that misusing this drug is possible even if you have a valid prescription. Baclofen abuse normally happens when someone starts using this drug in quantities higher than needed or prescribed. Some people may skip their regularly-spaced doses to take the medication in one large dose at once. Others may routinely take larger doses to experience constant sedation or euphoria. A small number of people also combine it with other mind-altering drugs, such as opiates or alcohol, to augment the overall effects.
Regardless of why or how a person starts abusing baclofen, this habit can increase the risk of mental and physical side effects and even make a user vulnerable to an overdose risk.
Physical Health Problems
People experiencing painful muscle spasms can particularly benefit from baclofen’s ability to reduce nerve signals related to contraction. However, someone who is taking the medication needlessly may experience problems due to this effect. Since the medication inhibits nervous activity in the brain, it may cause various unpleasant side effects related to the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and more. Its regular abuse can also cause fundamental health issues, such as always feeling fatigued or drowsy and unable to sleep at night. Some people also experience chronic dizziness, nausea, frequent urination, and constipation.
Occasionally, some baclofen side effects may progress to a dangerous extent, such as they may interfere with breathing and making it shallower or weaker. Some people may develop seizures, especially if they have recently taken a larger dose.
Mental Health Problems
Baclofen can affect the brain in a very complex way. While it acts like a depressant by reducing breathing, relaxing muscles, and slowing down the heart rate, the medication is also structurally similar to amphetamines. This structural similarity also gives it certain stimulant-like effects. This completely contradictory effect on the central nervous system may cause a person taking baclofen to experience altered behaviors and thinking patterns. People taking it more frequently or in very high doses are particularly vulnerable to these effects and can develop mental health problems.
Some common baclofen side effects related to mental health may include paranoia, delirium, and hallucinations. Some people find they are becoming confused more easily, losing touch with reality, and even exhibiting poor judgment. These changes can ultimately trigger erratic behaviors and make a person more vulnerable to irritation and agitation. Even if a person using baclofen has no history of mental health issues before, they may still experience some of these issues. On the other hand, those with known mental health problems may face a worsening of these issues with baclofen abuse.
Unfortunately, the tendency to abuse baclofen is much higher in people with pre-existing mental health conditions. This higher tendency is because of the relaxing effect the medication has on the brain; hence, many people try to self-medicate by taking baclofen unnecessarily. However, keep in mind that self-medicating is never a good idea, and it can make anyone take the wrong amount of medication, leading to worsening mental health symptoms. People abusing baclofen for some time may notice how their depression and anxiety symptoms get worse between two consecutive doses. The situation may quickly go downhill if such people suddenly stop using baclofen.
Routinely abusing baclofen can put a person at a very high risk of experiencing an overdose. As the medication is a central nervous system depressant, having too much of it in the system at once can lead to life-threatening problems, such as the following:
- Blurred vision
- Irregular, shallow breathing
- Loss of strength or energy
- Muscle pain or weakness
- Pale or blue lips, fingernails, or skin
- Trouble breathing
- Sleepiness or unusual drowsiness
- Feeling unusually weak
If you or someone around you develops the symptoms of a baclofen overdose, seek emergency help at once to save your life.
Baclofen Warnings and Precautions to Remember
Regardless of whether someone has recently started using baclofen or has been using it for some time, it is imperative to have regular check-ups with a doctor. These follow-ups will allow the healthcare professional to understand if the medication is working properly and whether or not a patient should continue taking it. Other precautions and warnings to keep in mind include the following:
- Do not use baclofen if you are allergic to it.
- For safety reasons, inform the healthcare professional if you have a history of rheumatic disease, kidney disease, stroke, blood clot, cerebral palsy, mental illness, balance problems, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, fast heart rate, or high blood pressure.
- Baclofen may increase the risk of acquiring an ovarian cyst in some people, so talk to your doctor about individual risk evaluation.
- Do not stop using baclofen on your own without consulting a doctor first. You may need to slowly taper the dose before completely stopping it to avoid certain side effects, such as high fever, seizures, rhabdomyolysis, and hallucinations.
- Baclofen may cause drowsiness, dizziness, clumsiness, or vision problems in some people. Hence, it is imperative to understand how this medication affects you and how you react to it before using any heavy machinery, driving, or engaging in any risky activity under its influence.
- Using the medication during pregnancy may put your developing baby at risk of neonatal withdrawal syndrome, characterized by seizures, tremors, and increased muscle tone.
- Do not take any other medications alongside baclofen unless a doctor has cleared them. These include prescription and non-prescription medications and vitamin and herbal supplements.
- Baclofen can affect blood sugar levels, so keep an eye on them, especially if you are a diabetic, and flag up any concerns with a doctor in time.
- Baclofen can enhance the effects of alcohol and other central nervous system depressants, such as antihistamines, tranquilizers, sleep aids, anti-seizure medications, prescription painkillers, barbiturates, medicines for cough, flu, and hay fever, and muscle relaxants. Hence, if you are already using any of these, consult with a doctor before combining them with baclofen, as the combination may lead to excessive depression, which may prove dangerous.
How should I store baclofen?
Store the medication at room temperature in a closed container, away from direct light, heat, and moisture. If using the liquid form, keep it in the fridge but avoid freezing it. Keep all medication out of children’s reach and dispose of unwanted pills or solutions properly.
What if I miss my usual dose of baclofen?
If you have missed a baclofen dose, take it as soon as you remember. However, if you remember the missed dose by the time you need the next dose, omit the previous one and take the next dose on time. Taking double or two doses too close to each other is not recommended.
How does baclofen affect the body and brain?
Baclofen is a depressant of the central nervous system in addition to a skeletal muscle relaxant. It is structurally similar to GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces brain activity to induce calmness. When consumed, baclofen activates the GABA receptors in the brain, which promotes inhibitory signals, consequently relaxing spasmed muscles.
Can any other drugs affect how baclofen works in the body?
Using any other drugs that affect GABA and make you drowsy can worsen the side effects secondary to baclofen. Some examples of these drugs include a medication for seizures or anxiety, an opioid drug, a sleeping pill, or another muscle relaxer. Additionally, certain over-the-counter and prescription medications may also interact with baclofen to cause unwanted side effects. Hence, ensure to inform your doctor about everything you are currently taking before they commence you on baclofen.
Will Baclofen make you sleepy?
Because baclofen promotes inhibitory signals in the central nervous system, it reduces overall neural activity, and may cause sedation in some people. These sleepy effects may be particularly enhanced in people who combine it with other sedatives, such as alcohol.
Can baclofen cause heart problems?
In general, baclofen does not cause any heart problems. People abusing it for recreation or out of addiction may be at risk of acquiring high blood pressure or palpitations.
Are baclofen side effects in elderly women more pronounced?
Certain side effects, such as mental depression, drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, and other mood changes, may be more pronounced in elderly men and women as these older populations are more sensitive to the effects of this medication than younger adults.