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BuSpar: What is it? Uses, Costs, Benefits, and Doses

If you’re one of 40 million American adults suffering from an anxiety disorder or experiencing symptoms of anxiety, you might think that your battle with the country’s most common mental illness is hopeless. Approximately 20 percent of the population struggles with anxiety, and less than 40 percent of the people suffering end up seeking any form of treatment. For those interested in receiving a prescription for anxiety such as anxiolytic, but worried about the habit-forming tendencies and high likelihood of side effects such as lightheadedness with drugs like Xanax and Ativan, 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.

What is BuSpar?

BuSpar is a popular anti-anxiety medication that belongs in a class called azapirones. The brand name medication BuSpar was discontinued by its manufacturer after its patent expired, so the drug is sold today under the generic name buspirone. Since many people still refer to the drug as BuSpar, you should know that the medication can be referred to by either name, but the product you will receive is use of buspirone. Although researchers do not know exactly how BuSpar works, it is thought to affect chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people experiencing anxiety. Specifically, doctors and healthcare providers think that BuSpar decreases the amount and action of serotonin in the brain, producing a calming adverse effect. 

What is BuSpar used to treat?

BuSpar is FDA-approved to treat anxiety, but it may also help with depression. It's often used with erythromycin and diazepam. BuSpar is primarily used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and may help people with anxiety think more clearly, muscle relaxant, and worry less. Patients taking BuSpar may feel less jittery and irritable than they otherwise would, and the medication can also help with trouble sleeping and sweating during the night. 

BuSpar is still being studied to determine whether it can help with depression. 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 combining BuSpar with an SSRI or SNRI medication in these patients provided additional benefits for approximately one in three patients. 

What is generalized anxiety disorder and what causes it?

Generalized anxiety disorder, the condition that BuSpar is primarily used to treat, affects approximately 6.8 million adults, or 3.1 percent of the U.S. population. The condition is most commonly observed in women, who are twice as likely as men to be affected. People with generalized anxiety disorder experience persistent and excessive worry about a variety of things, including money, health, family, work, or other issues. These individuals 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. Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder worry 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
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, or trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems

 
The exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder is unknown, but it is believed that biological factors, family background, and life experiences play a role. Many people with generalized anxiety disorder recognize that their worrying is disproportionately intense based on a given situation, but they find themselves unable to control their anxiety. 

How does BuSpar treat anxiety?

While the exact mechanism by which BuSpar treats anxiety is unknown, it is believed to work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine. BuSpar is a serotonin receptor agonist, meaning it signals serotonin receptors in your brain to become more active, which in turn alleviates anxiety. BuSpar’s work on serotonin receptors is part of what makes it particularly effective when paired with SSRI and SNRI medications like Lexapro. 

How much does BuSpar cost?

Because BuSpar is only available in its generic form, buspirone, it is one of the most affordable anti-anxiety medications on the market. 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 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, and pharmacy discount cards can offer savings as well. Because BuSpar is no longer offered under its brand name, coupons and patient assistance programs are uncommon.

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

What are the benefits of using BuSpar?

There are many benefits to using BuSpar, particularly as the medication compares to other medications used to treat anxiety. When thinking about anxiety medications, drugs like Xanax and Valium are often the first things that come to mind. Xanax and other drug interactions like it (called benzodiazepines), are fast-acting medications that are effective at treating acute anxiety in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, benzodiazepines are extremely habit-forming and carry a strong risk of psychological and physical dependence due to how quickly they work to alleviate anxiety. They also carry a long list of side effects of buspirone such as upset stomach and can be dangerous for many individuals. BuSpar is considered as effective as benzodiazepines but reports far fewer side effects. The medication is not habit forming, and there is a significantly lower risk of withdrawal symptoms associated with BuSpar as compared to benzodiazepines. 

How do I know which dose of BuSpar I should take?

Only your doctor can tell you which dose of Buspirone, 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. Consider your blood pressure level, for example. BuSpar 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 conditions you may have, will play a role in your doctor’s recommendation. A typical starting low dose of BuSpar to treat anxiety as an antianxiety 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 do I use BuSpar to treat anxiety?

In order to make sure your medication works as effectively as possible, it is important to be consistent in the conditions in which you take it. 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. 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.

Like many medications used to treat anxiety, BuSpar should not be taken while drinking alcohol; taking BuSpar while drinking alcohol can make you feel extremely sedated and sleepy, causing a potentially dangerous situation. You should not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice when taking BuSpar, as 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. 

BuSpar can treat anxiety either in conjunction with an SSRI or SNRI, such as Lexapro, or as a standalone medication.

Are there any side effects I should be aware of?

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
  • Clamminess or sweating
  • Decreased concentration
  • Diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress
  • Drowsiness
  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Muscle pain, spasms, cramps, or stiffness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Trouble with 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
  • Lack of coordination
  • 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
  • Decrease supply of breast milk

Is BuSpar considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding 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.

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 to the child. 

Who should not take BuSpar?

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. Individuals with kidney or liver disease should use caution when taking BuSpar and should make sure to discuss their medical conditions with their doctor. 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. 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.

How do I know if BuSpar is right for me?

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. Now marketed under the generic name buspirone, BuSpar is an excellent option for patients with a history of addiction who need an effective anxiety medication but are concerned about becoming psychologically or physically dependent. BuSpar has been shown to start working in about two weeks, and it can be combined 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 March 24th, 2020 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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