Terbutaline tablets and syrup (Bricanyl)

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Terbutaline relieves chest tightness and wheezing.

The most common side-effects are feeling shaky and headaches.

Type of medicineA short-acting beta2 agonist bronchodilator
Used forAsthma; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other airways-related breathing problems
Also calledBricanyl®
Available asTablets and sugar-free syrup

Terbutaline belongs to a group of medicines called bronchodilators because it widens (dilates) your airways. It works by opening up the air passages in your lungs so that air can flow into your lungs more freely. This helps to ease symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and feeling breathless.

Terbutaline is also available as an inhaler, which is the preferred way of taking the medicine. Terbutaline tablets or syrup are usually only prescribed for people (generally children or older adults) who are unable to use an inhaler. There is a separate medicine leaflet called Terbutaline inhaler and nebuliser which gives more information about terbutaline inhalers.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you (or if appropriate, your child) start taking terbutaline it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding. This is because it is particularly important that your breathing is well controlled if you are pregnant.
  • If you have heart or blood vessel problems, or an irregular heartbeat.
  • If you have high blood pressure.
  • If you have an overactive thyroid gland.
  • If you have high sugar levels in your blood (diabetes).
  • If you have been told by a doctor that there are low levels of potassium in your blood.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about terbutaline and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you could experience from taking it.
  • Your doctor will tell you what dose is right for you (or your child). It is usual to take three doses every day. It is important that you take terbutaline exactly as your doctor tells you to. The directions for taking it will also be printed on the label of the pack to remind you about what the doctor said to you.
  • When you start to take terbutaline, your doctor may give you a small dose and then increase it after a week or so. This allows your doctor to make sure that you have the dose that helps your condition but helps to avoid unwanted side-effects which can occur at the start of the new treatment.
  • Try to take the doses of terbutaline at the same times each day, as this will help you to remember to take them regularly. You can take terbutaline tablets and syrup either before or after meals.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take one as soon as you remember unless it is nearly time for your next dose. If it is almost time to take your next dose, wait until then and take the next dose as normal. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor and clinic. This is so your doctor can review your condition on a regular basis.
  • If at any time your breathing gets worse, please contact your doctor or nurse for advice straightaway. If you have asthma, you will receive a written asthma action plan from your nurse or doctor which will help you to manage your asthma and tell you what to do if you have an asthma attack.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking causes irritation and damage to the lungs and will make your condition worse. Speak with your doctor or practice nurse for further advice if you are having difficulty in stopping smoking.
  • If you have diabetes you may need to check your blood glucose more frequently, as terbutaline can affect the levels of sugar in your blood. Your doctor will advise you about this.
  • If you buy any medicines, please check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with terbutaline.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with terbutaline. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.

Very common terbutaline side-effects (these affect more than 1 in 10 people)What can I do if I experience this?
HeadacheThis usually improves after the first week or so but, in the meantime, ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller. If the headache continues longer than a week or so, speak with your doctor for further advice
Feeling shakyThis usually improves as you adjust to the new medicine. If it continues, speak with your doctor
Common terbutaline side-effects (these affect less than 1 in 10 people)What can I do if I experience this?
Muscle cramps, feeling of a fast heartbeat (palpitations), low levels of potassium in your blood (your doctor can check for this)If troublesome, speak with your doctor

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to terbutaline, please speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
3568 (v25)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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