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Skeletal muscle relaxants are drugs that relax striated muscles (those that control the skeleton). They are a separate class of drugs from the muscle relaxant drugs used during intubations and surgery to reduce the need for anesthesia and facilitate intubation.
Skeletal muscle relaxants may be used for relief of spasticity in neuromuscular diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, as well as for spinal cord injury and stroke. They may also be used for pain relief in minor strain injuries and control of the muscle symptoms of tetanus. Dantrolene (Dantrium) has been used to prevent or treat malignant hyperthermia in surgery.
Although the muscle relaxants may be divided into only two groups, centrally acting and peripherally acting, the centrally acting group, which appears to act on the central nervous system, contains 10 drugs which are chemically different, while only dantrolene has a direct action at the level of the nerve-muscle connection.
Carisoprodol (Soma), chlorphenesin (Maolate), chlorzoxazone (Paraflex), cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), diazepam (Valium), metaxalone (Skelaxin), methocarbamol (Robaxin), and orphenadrine (Norflex) are used primarily as an adjunct for rest in management of acute muscle spasms associated with sprains. Muscle relaxation may also be an adjunct to physical therapy in rehabilitation following stroke, spinal cord injury, or other musculoskeletal conditions.
Diazepam and methocarbamol are also used by injection for relief of tetanus.
Dose varies with the drug, route of administration, and purpose. There may be individual variations in absorption that require doses higher than those usually recommended, particularly with methocarbamol. Consult specific references for further information.
Diazepam may be addictive. It is a controlled substance under federal law.
Dantrolene has a potential for hepatotoxicity. The incidence of symptomatic hepatitis is dose related, but may occur even with a short period of doses at or above. Even short periods of doses at or above 800 mg per day greatly increases the risk of serious liver injury. Overt hepatitis has been most frequently observed between the third and twelfth months of therapy. Risk of hepatic injury appears to be greater in women, in patients over 35 years of age and in patients taking other medications in addition to dantrolene.
Tizanidine may cause low blood pressure, but this may be controlled by starting with a low dose and increasing it gradually. The drug may rarely cause liver damage.
Methocarbamol and chlorzoxazone may cause harmless color changes in urine—orange or reddish-purple with chlorzoxazone and purple, brown, or green with methocarbamol. The urine will return to its normal color when the patient stops taking the medicine.
Most drugs in this class are well tolerated.
Baclofen is pregnancy category C. It has caused fetal abnormalities in rats at doses 13 times above the human dose. Baclofen passes into breast milk, and breast feeding while taking baclofen is not recommended.
Diazepam is category D. All benzodiazepines cross the placenta. Although the drugs appear to be safe for use during the first trimester of pregnancy, use later in pregnancy may be associated with cleft lip and palate. Diazepam should not be taken while breast feeding. Infants who were breast fed while their mothers took diazepam were excessively sleepy and lethargic.
Dantrolene is category C. In animal studies it has reduced the rate of survival of the newborn when given in doses seven times the normal human dose. Mothers should not breast feed while receiving dantrolene.
Author Info: Samuel D. Uretsky PharmD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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