Common Muscle Relaxant Creates Health Scare for Kidney Patients

According to a new study reported in a recent article by HealthDay, a commonly prescribed muscle relaxant known as baclofen could potentially leave elderly kidney patients so disoriented that they land in the hospital.

Senior researcher Dr. Amit Garg warns that this muscle relaxant can result in “acute stroke-like symptoms, even though it’s not a stroke.” The professor of nephrology at Western University in Ontario, Canada went on to say it can result in “dementia-like symptoms.”

HealthDay reported that 1 in 25 people with low kidney function who were prescribed high doses of baclofen were admitted to a hospital for severe confusion. To get an idea of just how many people that is, only one in 500 kidney patients not prescribed baclofen were hospitalized for confusion.

Dr. Garg said these findings “highlight a potential risk associated with these drugs that hasn’t been fully appreciated.”

If you are getting older you might be at risk, since kidney function often declines age. Or if you have elderly loved ones, you might need to alert them.

Baclofen is typically prescribed to people suffering from muscle spasms. Doctors hand out more than 8 million prescriptions of baclofen every year. It’s critical to note that even seniors aware of the risk of baclofen might not be aware that it’s being prescribed to them. Baclofen is sold under numerous different brand names, including Lioresal, Gablofen, and Kemstro, reports HealthDay.

The drug leaves the body when the kidneys filter it out of a person’s blood, Dr. Garg explains, which means that if “someone’s kidney function isn’t working very well…the drug is accumulating in the system.”

Garg and other doctors have started noticing that kidney patients on baclofen sometimes became disoriented and dazed.

For example, nephrologist Dr. Holly Koncicki remembers some dialysis patients showing up with noticeably clouded mental capacity, often “with confusion or being very sleepy and lethargic.” said Dr. Koncicki, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.

In the study reported by HealthDay, 30 prior case reports linked baclofen to problems with brain function. Patients were at greatest risk of hospitalization for confusion if their kidney function was very impaired and they had been prescribed a high dose of baclofen, more than 20 milligrams (mg) per day.

But even patients with kidney function as high as 60% had an increased risk of confusion when prescribed high doses of baclofen, the findings showed. Kidney patients prescribed baclofen at 20 mg/day or higher had nearly 20 times the relative risk of being hospitalized for an altered mental state, compared with patients not taking the drug, the researchers found. Doses lower than 20 mg/day were associated with a nearly sixfold increase in kidney patients’ risk of hospitalization.

How Can You Avoid These Health Risks?

About 1 in 5 older adults live with kidney function of less than 60%, says HealthDay. If you’re a senior, you could be in danger of the medications containing baclofen!

  • If you have impaired kidney function, find out if your medications contain baclofen. Doctors warn that “older patients with impaired kidney function…should be cautious [regarding] use of this medication.”
  • If your medications contain baclofen, ask your doctor right away about the possible mental side effects, Koncicki and Garg said. Don’t stop taking your medications without a doctor’s approval. Patients “should feel empowered to ask questions about the risks and benefits of medications,” Koncicki said, “and side effects to watch out for so they can make an informed decision about whether a medication is right for them.” Dr. Teresa Murray Amato, director of geriatric emergency medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y., agreed. “All patients should speak to their doctors regarding side effects of all medications,” Murray Amato said. “For patients over 65, make sure you understand your kidney function and ask about potential renal dosing on all medications. If you are on baclofen now, make sure you contact your health care provider so that you can have an expedited conversation.”

One Way to Make Your Life Easier

Do you ever feel frustrated by health concerns like this? After all, there are enough problems in life without common medications posing dangers to your health! Sometimes life becomes overwhelming and you need to be able to focus all your time and energy on your family, your health, and things that bring you peace and happiness.

If the legal matters that come with getting older feel like one more burden in life, we’re here to lighten the load! Estate planning? Setting up trusts? Medicaid? Our elder law team has you covered! Make life a little less stressful. Contact our Port St. Lucie office at 772-878-7271 or online. Serving Treasure Coast seniors and those who love them.


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