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What is Terbutaline?

By Pamela Pleasant
Updated May 17, 2024
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Terbutaline is a drug with two common uses. It is an adrenergic receptor that can help with breathing problems such as asthma. Also, when a woman is going into dangerous premature labor, this drug is used to slow down or stop child birth. Although the United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved terbutaline to be used in such a manner, it is still occasionally administered. Adrenergic receptor drugs can also help with other types of respiratory or lung-related illnesses.

When used as an asthma medication, terbutaline can be inhaled or taken in a capsule. Patients who have severe cases of asthma are sometimes given this drug intravenously. It works to ease and soothe tightened muscles surrounding the respiratory system. The bronchial passages can also be opened up and dilated for improved breathing. Terbutaline can also be given to patients who suffer with severe bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Babies who are delivered prematurely can suffer because they are underdeveloped. They can experience problems with digestion and breathing and may need to be hospitalized for a considerable amount of time. Terbutaline helps to relax a mother's uterine muscles and slow down or stop labor contractions. For long-term relief, a pregnant woman can use capsules to inhibit labor but for short-term use, an injection is typically used.

There are various side effects associated with terbutaline. When this medication is used to improve breathing, it can cause headaches, heartbeat changes, and nervousness. Less documented side effects can include excessive sweating, insomnia, and muscle weakness. If this drug is used to prevent a premature birth, it can cause low blood pressure, lower potassium levels, and even seizures. For these reasons, it is considered a controversial pregnancy drug.

An overdoses of terbutaline can become life threatening. High doses of this drug can cause cardiovascular problems. Rapid heart beats can be accompanied by chest pain and discomfort. The lung development of a baby can be influenced if the pregnant mother uses terbutaline along with other corticosteroids.

It is thought that this drug may be linked to autism because it can cause a cellular reaction within the brain. This can happen when the fetus is in utero. It is not fully known, however, how this medication impacts a fetus.

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.

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