Barbiturates are medicines that act on the central nervous system (CNS). As agroup, they are known as central nervous depressants or sedative-hypnotic drugs. They cause drowsiness and may control seizures (convulsions).

Barbiturates make people very relaxed, calm, and sleepy. These drugs are sometimes used to help patients relax before surgery. In the past, barbiturates have been used to treat nervousness and sleep problems. Today they have generally been replaced by other medicines for these purposes. Barbiturates may become habit-forming and should not be used to relieve everyday anxiety and tension or to treat sleeplessness over long periods.

Barbiturates are available only with a physician's prescription. The recommended dosage depends on the type of barbiturate and other factors such as the patient's age and the condition for which the medicine is being taken. Some commonly used barbiturates are phenobarbital (Barbita) and secobarbital (Seconal).

Barbiturates should always be taken exactly as directed because of their tendency to become addicting and because of the way then interact with other drugs. Because barbiturates work on the central nervous system, they may add to the effects of alcohol and other drugs that slow the central nervous system, such as antihistamines, cold medicine, allergy medicine, sleep aids, medicinefor seizures, tranquilizers, some pain relievers, and muscle relaxants.

Barbiturates may also add to the effects of anesthetics, including those usedfor dental procedures. The combined effects of barbiturates and alcohol or other drugs that slow the central nervous system can be very dangerous, leading to unconsciousness or even death. Anyone who shows signs of an overdose ora reaction to combining barbiturates with alcohol or other drugs should get emergency medical help immediately.

Barbiturates can change the results of certain medical tests. Before having medical tests, anyone taking this medicine should alert the health care professional in charge so that accurate test results can be obtained.

People may feel drowsy, dizzy, lightheaded, or less alert when using these drugs. These effects may even occur the morning after taking a barbiturate at bedtime. Because of these possible effects, anyone who takes these drugs should not drive, use machines, or do anything else that might be dangerous untilthey have found out how the drugs affect them.

The most common side effects of barbiturates are dizziness, lightheadedness,drowsiness, and clumsiness or unsteadiness. These problems usually go away asthe body adjusts to the drug and do not require medical treatment unless they persist or interfere with normal activities. Birth control pills may not work properly when taken while barbiturates are being taken. To prevent pregnancy, use an additional method of birth control.

Barbiturates may also interact with other common prescription and over-the-counter medicines. When this happens, the effects of one or both of the drugs may change or the risk of side effects may be greater. Anyone who takes barbiturates should let the physician know all other medicines he or she is taking.

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