Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Editor's Note: Terbutaline was formerly sold in the United States under the brands Brethine® and Bricanyl®. Terbutaline is still sold as a generic but is not available as a brand-name drug.

Terbutaline is used to prevent and treat asthma symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Terbutaline belongs to the class of drugs known as bronchodilators. For people with asthma, terbutaline is usually given as a tablet.1,2

Terbutaline injections are sometimes used to treat premature labor in pregnant people who are in a hospital.1,2

What are the ingredients in terbutaline?

The active ingredient is terbutaline sulfate.

How does terbutaline work?

Terbutaline works on the beta-2 adrenergic receptor cells on the smooth muscles in the small tubes inside the lungs. It causes the smooth muscle to relax. By relaxing airway muscles, it helps increase the flow of air through the bronchial tubes of the lungs. This reduces symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath.1,2

What are the possible side effects?

The most common side effects of terbutaline include:1

  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth

Terbutaline has a boxed warning, the strictest warning from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It has this warning because it should not be used to stop or prevent premature labor in pregnant people, especially those who are not in a hospital. Terbutaline has caused serious side effects in newborns and pregnant people who took the medicine for this purpose.1,2

These are not all the possible side effects of terbutaline. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when taking terbutaline. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking terbutaline.

Other things to know

Before starting treatment with terbutaline, tell your doctor if you have:1,2

  • Diabetes
  • Heart or blood vessel disease
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Low potassium levels (hypokalemia)
  • Seizures

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding before starting treatment with terbutaline. Your doctor will help you decide if terbutaline is right for you.1,2

Terbutaline can interact with other medicines, especially certain antidepressant drugs, beta-blockers, and water pills (diuretics). Before beginning treatment for asthma, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.1,2

For more information, read the full prescribing information of terbutaline.

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