BuSpar and its generic buspirone are powerful and effective medications for the treatment of certain conditions, both mental and physical, and for decades they’ve been necessary medications in the lives of many people.
While a single dose of buspirone isn’t going to make depressive disorder go away, clinical studies have shown that a daily dosage of buspirone has beneficial clinical effects for many depressive symptoms.
That ultimately hasn’t changed over the years, even as buspirone’s side effects and relative discomfort of use have been outperformed by new drugs in the management of anxiety disorders over the last few decades.
If you’ve just been prescribed BuSpar® or a similar medication and you’re worried about the potential side effects, there’s no reason to worry deeply — those side effects are manageable with the right information. As long as you know what to look out for and how to respond.
Buspirone, also sold under the brand name BuSpar, is an anxiolytic drug or anti-anxiety medication. Buspirone was originally created to be an antipsychotic drug, but didn’t meet performance expectations.
Buspirone is generally used to treat GAD or generalized anxiety disorder and has proven effective in the management of short-term anxiety and anxiety symptoms, as well as for long-term use in the management of symptoms of anxiety and anxiety disorders.
While it is effective, it’s important to not forget that buspirone is largely considered to be a secondary or B-level option these days, mainly because its side effects are generally considered pretty severe in comparison with other, more recently developed treatments.
Buspirone is sometimes used in place of medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which can sometimes have less-than-desirable sexual side effects, or may simply not work for a particular patient.
First released in the late 1960s, buspirone doesn’t work the same way that other antidepressants do for anxiety treatment. Instead of working on serotonin levels in your brain, it instead focuses on certain serotonin and dopamine receptors.
Unfortunately, the important conversation to have about BuSpar is that the most important factor in how well it works for you may be how you experience its side effects. While buspirone is safe and effective when taken as directed, it does come with warnings of several side effects to be mindful of.
Common side effects include:
Nausea and Upset Stomach
Loss of Coordination
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider for guidance, which may include dose adjustments.
Buspirone may also have serious adverse events, and if you experience any of these, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.
While you shouldn’t necessarily discontinue your daily dose immediately, a healthcare provider may order that depending on your symptoms.
Let them know immediately if you experience:
Swelling of the Eyes, Mouth, Throat, Tongue or Lips
Irregular Heartbeat or Heart Rate
Shortness of Breath
These symptoms could indicate serious reactions to unhealthy concentrations of buspirone, so don’t delay if you see evidence — seek medical attention.
Some rough side effects, right? We tend to agree. And you might fairly assume that the sexual side effects of buspirone might well be worse than the stuff we’ve already mentioned.
It turns out, however, that the opposite is true: people rarely experience sexual side effects from these medications.
Buspirone, it turns out, has such minimal sexual side effects that people who experience sexual side effects from SSRIs are often switched to buspirone to mitigate those adverse effects.
Okay, back to the dangerous stuff: risk factors and drug interactions.
There are a few more things that you should know about buspirone’s risks, and we can start with potential interactions with other mood medications.
People using (or people who’ve recently used) monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, should probably not use buspirone for some time. If that’s you, you should make sure your healthcare provider knows about MAOI use. And you shouldn’t use those medications while using buspirone, or up to two weeks after having used them.
While buspirone does typically offer fewer negative alcohol interactions like sedative effects to be concerned with (in studies, it impaired performance less than other medications in the space), it still shouldn’t be taken with alcohol. Your healthcare provider should know about any upcoming surgery or recent surgery, and medical history of liver or kidney disease before prescribing you this medication.
Having trouble with this medication? With anxiety medications in general? It’s time to talk to a healthcare provider about your frustrations.
Getting the right medication for your needs is about more than effective treatment — it’s about quality of life. If that’s not what you’re getting from using buspirone, it may be time to change medications or investigate your response to therapy.
Adverse effects aren’t something to be ignored, but if you’re unhappy with this medication or another one, it’s a conversation that should be had with a healthcare professional.
Side effects shouldn’t sideline your life.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.