What Is Klonopin?

Klonopin (clonazepam) is a prescription medication primarily used to treat epilepsy. It belongs to the class of medicines known as benzodiazepines, and it is available as an oral and a dissolvable tablet. Clonazepam is considered a controlled substance, and patients who use it will be closely monitored. Before prescribing this medication, doctors will need to know if the patient has ever had open-angle glaucoma or other eye issues, and it is important that patients tell their doctor if they have swallowing difficulties, liver disease, or lung disease. Individuals with these conditions may not be able to use clonazepam safely, and an alternate medicine might be prescribed instead. Drowsiness and ataxia are the most common side effects of clonazepam, and patients have also reported dizziness and confusion.

How It Works

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Klonopin works by intensifying the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that attaches to GABA receptors in the brain. It blocks certain types of signals from the brain, and it decreases the activity of the patient's central nervous system. This mechanism produces a sense of calm and acts as a mild tranquilizer. Increases in gamma-aminobutyric acid are associated with reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure, improved sleep, and reductions in stress and fatigue. Reductions in anxiety and insomnia can begin within days of the first dose, and they sometimes occur within hours of starting the treatment. Due to the risk of dependence, Klonopin is only intended for short-term use.

Klonopin Uses And Benefits

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Klonopin is approved for the treatment of panic disorders and epilepsy. It helps prevent myoclonus, petit mal seizures, akinetic seizures, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. It is also used for the short-term treatment of anxiety. Doctors sometimes choose to prescribe this medication 'off-label' for other conditions. For example, it may be prescribed for depression, burning mouth syndrome, essential tremor, or periodic limb movement disorder, and it has also been prescribed as part of a treatment plan for multiple sclerosis. 

Physicians may consider using clonazepam to manage West syndrome, Tourette syndrome, vertigo, and ringing in the ears as well. While this medicine is approved to treat panic disorder in adults, it is not approved to treat this condition in pediatric patients (those under eighteen years old).

Potential Side Effects

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Patients who use Klonopin could experience a range of potential side effects. Some of the most commonly reported ones include depression, drowsiness, dizziness, difficulties with walking and coordination, fatigue, and issues with short-term memory. Some patients have reported headaches, loss of appetite, and irritability, and the medication could also cause upper respiratory tract infections. Patients with these infections might notice body aches, fever, chills, coughing, nasal congestion, and loss of voice. Less common side effects that may occur with the use of Klonopin include bladder pain, bloody or cloudy urine, muscle aches, nausea, frequent urges to urinate, and pain in the lower back or side. Sweating and nervousness may develop as well, and patients could notice increases in the amount of urine that they pass. 

Rare side effects include muscle stiffness and chest pain, and some patients have reported nightmares, excessive dreaming, and a lack of self-control while taking this medicine. Swelling of the face, ankles, or feet could occur, and the patient might have an abnormally rapid pulse. Patients should let their doctor know about all of the side effects they notice during treatment with clonazepam. In particular, doctors must be made aware of any side effects that persist for more than two weeks. Reducing the dose of this medicine could make side effects more tolerable for patients.

Precautions To Remember

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Individuals who are allergic to diazepam, lorazepam, and similar medicines should not take Klonopin or other forms of clonazepam. The medication is not safe for use by those with severe liver disease or narrow-angle glaucoma. Patients who have a history of alcohol or drug misuse should let their physician know before clonazepam is prescribed, and the doctor also needs to know about any history of depression, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts or actions. This medicine may be unsafe for patients who have breathing difficulties such as asthma, bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Some individuals who take clonazepam could experience suicidal thoughts, unusual behavior changes, and depression. These changes are most likely to occur during the first few weeks of treatment. Family members and caregivers should be made aware of the potential for these mental health changes so they can monitor the patient. If any of these changes occur, the patient's doctor should be informed immediately.

Individuals should let their doctor know if they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and they will need to inform the doctor if they are breastfeeding. Clonazepam could harm an unborn baby, and it might cause breathing difficulties in newborns. If this medication must be used for seizure prevention during pregnancy, the patient's name may be placed on a special register. The register monitors the outcome of the patient's pregnancy and records information about any effects clonazepam has on the newborn. Patients should not take this drug for longer than nine weeks unless a doctor has advised longer-term use. Klonopin could cause physical dependence with just two weeks of use. Patients should not stop taking the medicine without talking to their doctor first. It is necessary to taper the dose under medical supervision to reduce the risk of developing withdrawal symptoms.

Potential Medication Interactions

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To avoid potential medication interactions, patients should check with their doctor before using clonazepam with sleeping pills, opioids, muscle relaxers, prescription cough medicines, and any medication used to treat epilepsy, depression, or anxiety. Klonopin should not be used with other benzodiazepines. Taking it with ketoconazole, cimetidine, fluvoxamine, or itraconazole could increase the level of clonazepam in the body, and this may cause the patient to experience more severe side effects. 

Phenobarbital and phenytoin are known to decrease the level of clonazepam in the body, and this reduces the effectiveness of the medicine. Taking Klonopin with others that cause drowsiness, including zolpidem, certain antihistamines, and prescription cough syrups with codeine, could cause extreme sedation, and elderly patients who take both of these medicines are more likely to experience impairments in judgment, thinking, and motor skills when these medicines are used together.