We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Baclofen is a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) agonist which is used to suppress spasticity and the cravings suffered by alcohol and cocaine abusers. The intrathecal delivery system is a subcutaneous abdominal pump which transfers baclofen through a catheter to the spinal canal. Intrathecal baclofen allows for lower doses, fewer side effects, and easier drug maintenance. The patient and caregiver must be vigilant in watching for pump problems, which can result in overdose or withdrawal.

Muscular disorders characterized by spasticity or involuntary muscle spasms can prevent coordinated movement and are often caused by excessive GABA release. Baclofen acts to normalize the balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters by controlling the action of GABA and relaxing the hyperactive muscles. It is prescribed to control spasticity in disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, spastic diplegia, and spinal cord injuries, and also has been used to treat alcohol and cocaine addictions.

Baclofen can be administered orally, but intrathecal baclofen administration into the spinal fluid appears to be most effective method, requires lower doses of the drug, and produces fewer side effects. A small titanium pump about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick by 3 inches (7.6 cm) in diameter is placed near the waist just under the skin. The pump has a reloadable reservoir to store the drug and can be programmed to release the drug at the appropriate dose. A catheter transports the baclofen from the pump directly into the spinal canal. The pump is checked, reprogrammed, and reloaded in a doctor’s office every one to six months, and a new pump is implanted approximately every five to seven years when the battery is depleted.

Intrathecal baclofen treatment is typically recommended when spasticity is interfering with a patient’s personal safety or normal activity. This drug delivery method is fairly maintenance free, so it is advantageous when the burden of spasticity and patient care becomes excessive for a caregiver. Intrathecal baclofen may also be tried if the dose for oral baclofen was high and the side effects surpassed the benefits of the drug.

The dangers of intrathecal baclofen occur when a catheter problem develops, human error results in an improper pump setting, or when the wrong baclofen concentration is loaded into the reservoir. Problems can also occur when the patient fails to react to a pump alarm, warning of a malfunction or that the pump is almost empty. These issues can cause improper dose delivery and result in either an overdose or withdrawal. Signs of baclofen overdose include the return of poor muscle control, sleepiness, seizures, an inability to breath, and coma. Withdrawal is characterized by increased spasticity, sweating, rashes, fever, elevated heart rate, and, if left untreated, organ failure and death.

Overdosing or withdrawal can be avoided by carefully selecting patients who are either capable of monitoring their own pumps or have a responsible caregiver. The pumps need to be refilled and checked one week before the medication runs out. In addition, the patient and caregiver need to learn to recognize the early signs of both baclofen withdrawal and overdose and seek medical help immediately.

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.
Discussion Comments
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.