What Is Clonidine? - Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

With all of the different medications on the market today, it's hard to keep track of what they all do. Read this lesson to learn about clonidine, a medication that affects blood pressure, as well as its other uses and side effects.

What Is Clonidine?

If you're like me, you might have a hard time keeping up with all of the different medications out there. What are they used for? What are the potential side effects? In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at the uses and side effects of clonidine.

How Clonidine Works and Uses

Clonidine is a medication most often used to treat high blood pressure, or hypertension. It makes sense then that clonidine belongs to a group of medicines called antihypertensives. Clonidine works by altering chemical cues in the brain to relax blood vessels and slow the heart rate, allowing more blood to reach the heart. This reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure as a result of high blood pressure.

The chemical structure of clonidine.
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In some instances, clonidine is also used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome, menopause, menstrual cramps, and withdrawal symptoms from drugs or alcohol.

Side Effects of Clonidine

Clonidine should be taken exactly as it is prescribed to the patient. There are a number of possible side effects that can occur, so let's start with the most common and work our way up based on severity.

The most common side effect of clonidine is constipation. This usually does not require medical attention. Less common side effects include skin discoloration, eye irritation, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and decreased sexual interest or ability. Finally, symptoms like vision problems, hair loss, muscle and joint pain, cramping, weakness, and paleness are even less common but usually don't require medical treatment. Often, side effects will lessen over time as the body adjusts to clonidine.

There are, however, more serious side effects that should trigger an alarm and may require a doctor's attention. These are not very common but can occur when taking clonidine. Depression and swelling in the lower body may occur, and more serious side effects can include anxiety, skin irritation, chest pains, confusion, drowsiness, fatigue, dry mouth, fever, irritability, abnormal heart rate, restlessness, weight gain, wheezing, nightmares, difficulty urinating, or hyperventilation. If these side effects persist, it's best to discuss other options with your doctor.

It is also possible to overdose on clonidine, and overdose has its own set of side effects. It can cause extreme dizziness or fatigue, feeling cold, and pinpoint pupils in the eyes. These symptoms indicate the need for immediate medical attention.

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