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Fact Checked

BuSpar Side Effects: What Are They?

More than 40 million American adults, or about 20 percent of the population, struggles with an anxiety disorder or experiences the symptoms of anxiety regularly. Less than 40 percent of people suffering from anxiety seek treatment, so you might think that your battle with the country’s most common mental illness is hopeless. Xanax and Ativan, two well-known and popular medications for controlling anxiety, are highly effective, but carry a high risk of habit-forming tendencies and side effects. For those interested in receiving a prescription for anxiety but worried about the risk of dependency and side effects associated with other medications, BuSpar can offer a safe, low-cost alternative that is also extremely effective. More than 13.5 million prescription drugs were written for BuSpar in 2017, and the popularity of the drug continues to rise. Due to the ongoing demand, some patients have had difficulty filling their prescriptions in recent years due to drug shortages.

Overview

BuSpar is a popular anti-anxiety medication that belongs in a class of drugs called azapirones. While many people use the name BuSpar to refer to the medication, the brand name medication was discontinued by its manufacturer after its patent expired, so the drug is sold today under the generic name buspirone. Your doctor or healthcare professional may refer to the medication by either name, but the product you will receive is buspirone. People with anxiety sometimes experience the condition as a result of an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, and researchers believe that BuSpar works by correcting this imbalance. Specifically, doctors and healthcare providers think that BuSpar decreases the amount and action of serotonin in the brain, producing a calming adverse effect. 

Conditions Treated

BuSpar is commonly used and is FDA-approved to treat anxiety, but it may also be used in some situations to treat depression. The medication is frequently taken in conjunction with erythromycin and diazepam. BuSpar is primarily used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and may help people with anxiety think more clearly, relax their tense muscles, and worry less. Some people suffering from anxiety also feel jittery and irritable during the day and have trouble sleeping through the night and may sweat through the night; BuSpar can help relieve each of these symptoms. 
Studies are still underway to determine whether BuSpar is effective in treating depression, but early studies are promising. In studies, researchers worked with patients who experienced some relief from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), MAO inhibitors, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) medications, such as Lexapro, but did not experience complete relief. One study showed that approximately one in three patients experienced relief when combining BuSpar with an SSRI or SNRI medication. 

 

Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

About 6.8 million adults, or 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, are affected by generalized anxiety disorder; women are twice as likely as men to be affected. People with generalized anxiety disorder experience persistent and excessive worry about any number of things, but money, health, family, work, or other issues are common concerns. People suffering from generalized anxiety disorder may feel unable to control their worrying and may worry more than normal about actual events. They can also expect the worst and anticipate disaster even in situations that would otherwise cause no concern. In order to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, patients should report worrying more days out of a week than not for at least six months and experience three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling nervous, irritable, or on edge
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, or trembling

We don’t know exactly what causes generalized anxiety disorder, but it is believed that biological factors, family background, and life experiences play a role. Often, people with generalized anxiety disorder understand that their worrying is irrational or inappropriate based on a given situation, but they find themselves unable to control their anxiety. 

How BuSpar Works

BuSpar is believed to work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine. As a serotonin receptor agonist, BuSpar signals serotonin receptors in your brain to become more active, helping to relieve anxiety. BuSpar is particularly effective when paired with SSRI and SNRI medications like Lexapro because of its effect on serotonin receptors.

Cost

BuSpar is one of the most affordable anti-anxiety medications on the market because it is no longer produced as a brand name medication; the generic drug is offered only as buspirone. Buspirone is produced in 5 mg,  7.5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, and 30 mg doses, and the costs vary depending on the dosage and quantity prescribed. BuSpar is not available over-the-counter and is typically taken two to three times per day, so a 30 day supply would include 90 tablets. The medication is covered by nearly all commercial and Medicare drug insurance plans, but pharmacy discount cards can offer savings as well, particularly for patients who are uninsured or underinsured. Because BuSpar is no longer offered under its brand name, coupons and patient assistance programs are uncommon. BuSpar needs to be stored at room temperature. 

Approximate Costs of BuSpar (Buspirone)

Buspirone

Per Pill
30 Day Supply
5 mg oral tablet
$0.14
$12.60
7.5 mg oral tablet
$1.21
$109.06
10 mg oral tablet
$0.25
$22.15
15 mg oral tablet
$0.55
$49.50
30 mg oral tablet
$1.95
$175.50

Benefits

Besides the affordable cost of BuSpar, there are many benefits to using the drug, especially when compared to other anti-anxiety medications. Drugs like Xanax and Valium are often the first names that come to mind when we think about anxiety medications, because Xanax and other drugs in its class, called benzodiazepines, are fast-acting medications that are effective at treating acute anxiety in a short amount of time. While benzodiazepines are very effective,  they are also extremely habit-forming and carry a strong risk of psychological and physical dependence due to how quickly they work to alleviate anxiety. Benzodiazepines also carry a long list of side effects, including upset stomach, and can be dangerous for many individuals. BuSpar is considered as effective as benzodiazepines but reports far fewer side effects. It’s also non-habit forming, and there is a significantly lower risk of withdrawal symptoms associated with BuSpar as compared to benzodiazepines. 

Dosage

Only your doctor can tell you which dose of BuSpar, or buspirone hydrochloride,  is right for you and offer accurate medical advice, but there are some general guidelines that were formed through clinical trials that will influence your dosage. The medication is available in 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, and 30 mg tablets. The severity of your symptoms, as well as other medications you may be taking and other medical issues you may have, such as your blood pressure level,  will play a role in your doctor’s recommendation. A typical starting low dose of BuSpar to treat anxiety in an adult may be 7.5 mg taken twice per day. Your doctor may increase your dose as needed; however, a total of 60 mg is generally the maximum prescribed for treatment per day. The medication can be taken two to three times daily depending on the long-term use and how long it lasts in your body.

How to Use BuSpar

BuSpar is generally taken two to three times a day and can be taken with or without food; however, it is important that you take BuSpar the same way each time so that the absorption of the medication into your body is not impacted. In order to make sure your medication works as effectively as possible, it is important to be consistent in the health conditions in which you take it. Many people choose to take their medicine with food because it is easier to remember. Depending on the dosage prescribed to you by your doctor, you may split the oral tablet in order to take the correct dose, but this should only be done with the approval of your doctor or pharmacist.

Taking BuSpar while drinking alcohol can make you feel extremely sedated and sleepy, causing a potentially dangerous situation, so you should not take BuSpar while drinking alcohol.  Too much grapefruit juice can cause the levels of BuSpar in your body to be higher than normal, increasing the possibility of uncomfortable side effects, so you should not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice when taking BuSpar.
BuSpar can treat anxiety either in conjunction with an SSRI or SNRI, such as Lexapro or as a standalone medication.

BuSpar Side Effects

BuSpar is a popular medication due to its lack of serious and potentially dangerous side effects as compared to other anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax and Ativan. When side effects do occur, they are generally mild. Common side effects of BuSpar include:

  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Unusual excitement
  • Less common side effects associated with BuSpar include:
  • Blurred vision and lightheadedness
  • Clamminess or sweating
  • Decreased concentration
  • Diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle pain, spasms, cramps, or stiffness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia), nightmares, or vivid dreams
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness 


In rare cases, BuSpar may cause these side effects:

  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Incoordination
  • Mental depression
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in the hands or feet
  • Skin rash and hives
  • Sore throat
  • Stiffness of the arms or legs
  • Uncontrolled movements of the body
  • Decreased supply of breast milk

Precautions for Pregnant and Nursing Women

BuSpar is considered a pregnancy Category B drug by the FDA, meaning no fertility impairment or fetal damage was observed in reproduction studies performed in animals using doses of approximately 30 times the maximum recommended dose for humans. However, no studies have been performed in humans that are considered adequate for assessing risk, and because animal reproduction studies are not always predictive of human response, it is recommended that BuSpar only be taken by pregnant women with a clear need for this specific medication. Your doctor will determine if the benefits of taking BuSpar during pregnancy outweigh the risks.
To date, no studies evaluating the effect of BuSpar on humans during labor and delivery have been performed. The transmission of BuSpar from a breastfeeding mother to her child and the subsequent effects on the child have not been studied and are unknown; however, the probmedication and its metabolites have been shown to transmit from mother to nursing child in rats. Therefore, nursing mothers should avoid using BuSpar if clinically possible to avoid any unforeseen impacts on the child. 

Risks

BuSpar should not be taken by people who are allergic to BuSpar, and those with allergies to food, dyes, preservatives, or animals should talk to their doctor about their allergies prior to taking the medication, as inactive ingredients in the medication’s formula can trigger an allergic reaction. Kidney or liver problems can increase the effects of BuSpar because it takes your body longer to process and eliminate the medication, so a lower dose may be more appropriate for people with these issues. Therefore, individuals with kidney or liver disease should use caution when taking BuSpar and should make sure to discuss their medical conditions with their doctor. People with bipolar disorder and Parkinson’s diseases should not take BuSpar. Pregnant women should only take this medication if there is a clear clinical need, and nursing women should avoid BuSpar if clinically possible.

Deciding to Take BuSpar

Now marketed under the generic name buspirone, BuSpar is an excellent option for patients with a history of addiction who need effective anxiety medication but are concerned about becoming psychologically or physically dependent. If you are looking for an anxiety medication that is effective, affordable, non-habit-forming, has side effects that are generally mild, and has fewer withdrawal symptoms than other medications, BuSpar may be right for you. BuSpar has been shown to start working in about two weeks, but patients who need more immediate relief may combine it temporarily with a fast-acting anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax or Ativan until it kicks in. BuSpar also does not carry the risk of sexual side effects that are often reported with SSRIs and SNRIs, which makes it an attractive option for those who have experienced these side effects with other medications. BuSpar can be taken on its own or in combination with an SSRI or SNRI for patients who do not find complete relief from these medications at low doses but who experience unwanted side effects at higher doses. 
 

Published April 30th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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