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What Is Flumazenil?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Flumazenil is a medication a doctor may prescribe to a patient to reverse the effects of benzodiazepines. This may be necessary in the case of an overdose or when a patient is coming out of sedation or general anesthesia. The medication must be provided in a controlled environment by a doctor or nurse, and is available by prescription only to protect the health and safety of patients. Pregnant patients should alert their doctors before taking flumazenil, as the medication is known to cause birth defects.

This medication is a benzodiazepine agonist. When a patient takes it, it locks on to benzodiazepine receptors, competing at these sites and making it harder for any drugs in the patient's system to lock onto them. Usually patients start to improve within one to two minutes after taking flumazenil. Their central nervous system activity will increase, and if they are under sedation or anesthesia, they will become more alert and aware.

In the case of anesthesia and sedation, the doctor will direct the anesthesiologist to reverse the medications once the procedure is over. Flumazenil is one of the medications an anesthesiologist can choose to use in the process of waking a patient up. As the patient becomes more aware, the medical team can perform periodic assessments to make sure the patient is stable and identify any emerging issues, such as numbness after surgery that might indicate nerve damage.

Patients brought to a hospital for medical treatment after a benzodiazepine overdose may also receive flumazenil. The doctor reviews the patient's case carefully and collects as much information as possible to determine if this is the most appropriate treatment. Prescribing flumazenil for a patient with an overdose from some kinds of drugs can be dangerous, and the doctor also needs to know about any underlying medical conditions like liver damage that could complicate the use of this medication.

Flumazenil side effects can vary. The reason for the medication can be a factor, as can the patient's underlying health conditions and the risk of drug interactions. Some patients experience severe convulsions, and others may become agitated or stressed. Fatigue, nausea, and fidgeting are also seen in some patients. It is also possible to have an allergy to this drug, in which case patients may notice tingling, numbness, and stinging around the injection site. Patients who have difficulty breathing or notice heart rate changes should draw the attention of a care provider immediately, as these may be signs of an extreme allergic reaction.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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