- What is theophylline, and how does it work (mechanism of action)?
- What brand names are available for theophylline?
- Is theophylline available as a generic drug?
- Do I need a prescription for theophylline?
- What are the uses for theophylline?
- What are the side effects of theophylline?
- What is the dosage for theophylline?
- Which drugs or supplements interact with theophylline?
- Is theophylline safe to take if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?
- What else should I know about theophylline?
What is theophylline, and how does it work (mechanism of action)?
Theophylline belongs to a class of medications called bronchodilators, used in treating asthma and other airway diseases. Asthma is a breathing problem caused by narrowing of the airways, the breathing passages that allow air to move in and out of the lungs. Airways can be narrowed due to accumulation of mucus, spasm of the muscles that surround these airways, or swelling of the lining of the airways. Airway narrowing leads to symptoms of shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, and congestion. The narrowed airways can open either spontaneously or with medications. Medications that open airways are called bronchodilators. Theophylline opens airways by relaxing the smooth muscles in the walls of the airways. Theophylline also can be helpful in patients with emphysema and chronic bronchitis when their symptoms are partially related to reversible airway narrowing. Theophylline also strengthens right heart function and diaphragm movement. Theophylline was approved by the FDA in April 1979.
What are the uses for theophylline?
Theophylline is used for the relief and prevention of airway narrowing (bronchospasm) in patients with asthma. Theophylline also can be used in treating patients with emphysema and chronic bronchitis when their symptoms are related to reversible airway narrowing. Theophylline can be administered together with other bronchodilators, such as albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil) for added bronchodilator effect.
What are the side effects of theophylline?
Common side effects are:
Other important and more serious side effects include seizures and heart arrhythmias. Theophylline should be used cautiously in patients with high blood pressure, peptic ulcer disease, seizure disorders, and serious heart disease, especially heart rhythm problems.
Quick GuideAsthma Symptoms, Causes, and Medications
What is the dosage for theophylline?
Theophylline may be taken with or without food but should not be crushed or chewed. High blood theophylline levels can lead to symptoms of toxicity (see below). Therefore, theophylline blood levels are monitored periodically during treatment to assure achievement of optimal and safe levels. The initial dose is 300-600 mg once daily or as a divided dose for 3 days. The maintenance dose is 400-600 mg daily.
Which drugs or supplements interact with theophylline?
: Certain groups of patients breakdown theophylline slowly, and can develop elevated blood levels and potential toxicity even on normal doses. These patients include those with liver disease, older men with chronic lung diseases, infants, patients with high fever or heart failure, and patients taking other medications that increase blood theophylline levels.
Examples of medications that can elevate theophylline blood levels include ephedrine, allopurinol (Zyloprim), cimetidine (Tagamet), ciprofloxacin (Cipro), clarithromycin (Biaxin), itraconazole (Sporanox), ketoconazole, erythromycin, oral contraceptives, fluvoxamine (Luvox), and propranolol (Inderal).
Theophylline toxicity can cause nausea, vomiting, insomnia, seizures, agitation and life- threatening heart rhythm abnormalities. St. John's Wort, rifampin, and carbamazepine decrease levels of theophylline and potentially its effect by increasing its elimination. Theophylline may decrease levels and the effect of carbamazepine by increasing its elimination. Theophylline is metabolized mainly by the liver and dosages should be reduced in patients with liver dysfunction. On the other hand, theophylline is generally metabolized more rapidly in smokers (both tobacco and marijuana) and higher dosages may be required.
Is theophylline safe to take if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?
: There are no adequate studies in pregnant women.
Theophylline is excreted in breast milk and may cause mild side effects such as irritability in the infant.
What else should I know about theophylline?
What preparations of theophylline are available?
Capsule (extended release): 100, 200, 300, and 400 mg
How should I keep theophylline stored?
Theophylline should be stored at room temperature, below 77 C F (25 C) in a tightly closed container.
Reference: FDA Prescribing Information
Quick GuideAsthma Symptoms, Causes, and Medications
Theophylline (Respbid, Slo-Bid, Theo-24, [Theolair, Uniphyl Theo-Dur, and Slo-Phyllin are discontinued]) is a bronchodilators prescribed for the treatment of asthma and other airway conditions. Side effects, drug interactions, dosing, and pregnancy safety information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Related Disease Conditions
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Top theophylline Related ArticlesComplete List
Asthma ComplexitiesThere are many unusual symptoms of asthma, including sighing, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, chronic cough, recurrent walking pneumonia, and rapid breathing. These symptoms may vary from individual to individual. These asthma complexities make it difficult to accurately diagnose and treat asthma.
Asthma MedicationsThere are two types of asthma medications: long-term control with anti-inflammatory drugs and quick relief from bronchodilators. Asthma medicines may be inhaled using a metered-dose inhaler or nebulizer or they may be taken orally. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or heart disease shouldn't take OTC asthma drugs like Primatene Mist and Bronkaid.
Asthma OverviewAsthma is a condition in which hyperreactive airways constrict and result in symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Causes of asthma include genetics, environmental factors, personal history of allergies, and other factors. Asthma is diagnosed by a physician based on a patient's family history and results from lung function tests and other exams. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and long-acting bronchodilators (LABAs) are used in the treatment of asthma. Generally, the prognosis for a patient with asthma is good. Exposure to allergens found on farms may protect against asthma symptoms.
Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways in the lung. Acute bronchitis is is short in duration (10 to 20 days) in comparison with chronic bronchitis, which lasts for months to years. Causes of acute bronchitis include viruses and bacteria, which means it can be contagious. Acute bronchitis caused by environmental factors such as pollution or cigarette smoke is not contagious. Common symptoms for acute bronchitis include
- nasal congestion,
- sore throat,
- muscle aches, and
Acute bronchitis in children also my include runny nose, fever, and chest pain. Treatment for acute bronchitis are OTC pain relievers, cough suppressants (although not recommended in children), and rest. Infrequently antibiotics may be prescribed to treat acute bronchitis.
Bronchodilators for Asthma
Bronchodilators are prescription medications used to treat
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and
Side effects depend upon the type of bronchodilator used
- long-acting beta-adrenergic,
- short-acting beta-adrenergic,
- anticholinergic, or
- xanthine derivatives.
Drug interactions and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety information should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Chronic bronchitis is a cough that occurs daily with production of sputum that lasts for at least three months, two years in a row. Causes of chronic bronchitis include cigarette smoking, inhaled irritants, and underlying disease processes (such as asthma, or congestive heart failure). Symptoms include
- shortness of breath, and
Treatments include bronchodilators and steroids. Complications of chronic bronchitis include COPD and emphysema.
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung condition caused by smoking tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke, and/or air pollutants. Conditions that accompany COPD include:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic cough
Symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic cough
Treatment of COPD include smoking cessation, medications, and surgery. The life expectancy of a person with COPD depends on the stage of the disease.
COPD vs. Emphysema Differences Similarities
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the term doctors and other health care professionals use to describe a group of serious, progressive (worsens over time), chronic lung diseases that include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and sometimes asthma. The number one cause of COPD or emphysema, is smoking, and smoking is the third leading cause of death in the US. When a person first develops COPD, he or she may not have any symptoms. As the disease progresses, the symptoms worsen and become more severe and include:
- Difficulty breathing with exertion or physical activity, which in the advanced stages, eventually leads to breathlessness all of the time.
- Chronic cough
- Excessive phlegm production
- Upper respiratory infections like the flu or common cold.
- A barrel-shaped chest
- A bluish tint to the skin from lack of oxygen
- Chest tightness
- varenicline (Chantix) to quit smoking
- The antidepressant and bupropion (Zyban) to reduce nicotine withdrawals
- Drugs that are prescribed for another condition (off label), for example, nortriptyline (Pamelor) and clonidine (Catapres)
- Short-term bronchodilators, for example, albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil)
- Long-term bronchodilators, for example, salmeterol (Serevent) and formoterol (Foradil)
- Anticholinergic bronchodilators, for example, ipratropium (Atrovent) and tiotropium (Spiriva)
- Combined drugs using steroids and long acting bronchodilators
- Roflumilast (Daxas, Daliresp)
You can prevent getting COPD or emphysema if you:
- Quit smoking and making healthy lifestyle changes
- Avoid secondhand smoke
- Avoid home and workplace air pollutants
- Prevent upper respiratory tract infections
There is a genetic cause of COPD called alpha-1 antitrypsin.
CDC. "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)." Updated: Sep 16, 2016.
NIH; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "COPD National Action Plan." Updated: May 15, 2017.
NIH; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "What is COPD?" Updated: Apr 28, 2017.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)." Updated: Oct 31, 2014.
Victoria State Government. "Emphysema." Updated: Nov 2014.
Sharafkhaneh, A. et al. Emphysema. Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2008 May 1; 5(4): 475â€“477. doi: 10.1513/pats.200708-126ET
Boka, K. "Emphysema." Medscape. Updated: Aug 31. 2016.
Kleinschmidt, P. "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Emphysema in Emergency Medicine." Medscape. Updated: Jun 08, 2017.
Drug InteractionsDrug interactions occur frequently. Get facts about the types of drug interactions, what substances or other things that may interact with drugs such as OTC drug and prescription drugs, vitamins, food(s) (grapefruit), and laboratory tests. Find out how to protect yourself from potential drug interactions.
Drugs: What You Should Know About Your DrugsImportant information about your drugs should be reviewed prior to taking any prescription drug. Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precauctions, dosage, what the drug is used for, what to do if you miss a dose, how the drug is to be stored, and generic vs. brand names.
Emphysema (Lung Condition)Emphysema is a COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that often occurs with other obstructive pulmonary problems and chronic bronchitis. Causes of emphysema include chronic cigarette smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, and in the underdeveloped parts of the world. Symptoms of emphysema include chronic cough, chest discomfort, breathlessness, and wheezing. Treatments include medication and lifestyle changes.
Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, and ColdsIf you have a COPD such as emphysema, avoiding chronic bronchitis and colds is important to avoid a more severe respiratory infection such as pneumonia. Avoiding cigarette smoking, practice good hygeine, stay away from crowds, and alerting your healthcare provider if you have a sinus infection or cold or cough that becomes worse. Treatment options depend upon the severity of the emphysema, bronchitis, or cold combination.
NeutropeniaNeutropenia is a marked decrease in the number of neutrophils, neutrophils being a type of white blood cell (specifically a form of granulocyte) filled with neutrally-staining granules, tiny sacs of enzymes that help the cell to kill and digest microorganisms it has engulfed by phagocytosis.
Sleep ApneaSleep apnea is defined as a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep. The three types of sleep apnea are central apnea, obstructive apnea (OSA), and a mixture of central and obstructive apnea. Central sleep apnea is caused by a failure of the brain to activate the muscles of breathing during sleep. OSA is caused by the collapse of the airway during sleep. OSA is diagnosed and evaluated through patient history, physical examination and polysomnography. There are many complications related to obstructive sleep apnea. Treatments are surgical and non-surgical.