What is fioricet ?

Fioricet contains a combination of acetaminophen, butalbital, and caffeine. Acetaminophen is a pain reliever and fever reducer. Butalbital is in a group of drugs called barbiturates. It relaxes muscle contractions involved in a tension headache. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It relaxes muscle contractions in blood vessels to improve blood flow.

Fioricet Chemical Structure
Fioricet Chemical Structure

Fioricet is used to treat tension headaches that are caused by muscle contractions.

Fioricet® (Butalbital, Acetaminophen, and Caffeine Tablets USP) is supplied in tablet form for oral administration.

Each tablet contains the following active ingredients:
butalbital USP . . . . . . . . . . . .50 mg
acetaminophen USP . . . . . . 325 mg
caffeine USP . . . . . . . . . . . . .40 mg

Butalbital has generalized depressant effect on central nervous system and, in very high doses, has peripheral effects. Acetaminophen has analgesic and antipyretic effects mediated by a metabolite which acts at cannabinoid receptors, contrary to popular belief it is not an antiinflammatory at safe levels (it becomes toxic at doses above 1,000mg per dose and/or 3,000mg per day). Caffeine is thought to produce constriction of cerebral blood vessels and serves to counteract the sedative effect of butalbital.

Butalbital has a half-life of about 35 hours. Acetaminophen has a half-life of about 1.25 to 3 hours, but may be increased by liver damage and after an overdose. Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 to 7 hours.

Fioricet (butalbital/acetaminophen/caffeine) has been around forever and is used by many for the treatment of chronic migraine or tension headaches. It is a mixture of a barbiturate, Tylenol (acetaminophen) and caffeine.

Now, many formularies are no longer covering Fioricet capsules. For those of you who have relied on it for years, this (understandably) may make you nervous.

Well, it turns out it doesn’t really work that well—and there are much better options out there.

  • Fioricet and Fioricet with Codeine are not as effective for acute migraine as newer medications. There isn’t any evidence that shows that barbiturate-containing meds (the butalbital in Fioricet) help for migraine treatment. In fact, the use of Fioricet with Codeine often results in chronic migraine and a “medication overuse headache.”
  • NSAIDS. Start with these instead. There is good evidence that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—ibuprofen, naproxen, and others—work well for the treatment of acute migraine.
  • Triptans. Imitrex (sumatriptan), Maxalt (rizatriptan), Relpax (eletriptan), and Frova (frovatriptan) are examples. Used alone or in combination with an NSAID, triptans work well for moderate to severe headaches that aren’t relieved by NSAIDs alone. Wondering which to choose? They generally work the same but you may notice fewer side effects with one over the other. Cost can also be an issue so you’ll want to pick a triptan that is covered by your insurance plan. It’s also a good idea to check GoodRx to see if the cash or discount price beats your co-pay.
  • Adding a nausea medication. For folks with moderate to severe migraine accompanied by nausea or vomiting, adding Reglan (metoclopramide) , Zofran (ondansetron) or Compazine (prochlorperazine) also helps.

Bottom line is . . . while your Fioricet capsules may no longer be covered, better options exist.

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