What Are Baclofen Pumps?

Jillian O Keeffe

Baclofen is a drug that relaxes muscles, and therefore has applications in treating people who suffer from muscle spasms. Although some people experience benefits with the drug in tablet form, other people suffer severe side effects from this form of treatment. Baclofen pumps may be the solution for this problem, but as the pumps are designed to be inserted directly into the spine to deliver the drug, this form of baclofen treatment carries some extra risks compared to the oral treatment. Baclofen pumps stay in the spine for up to seven years and only require refilling every few weeks or months.

Someone using baclofen should not consume alcohol.
Someone using baclofen should not consume alcohol.

Various medical conditions cause muscle spasms, which can be painful and uncomfortable. Cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis are examples of these conditions, but baclofen pumps may be suitable for anyone who experiences spasms and requires antispasmodic treatment to ease abnormally tight or cramped muscles. Muscles get instructions to tighten and loosen from the nerves of the central nervous system (CNS). This drug works by interfering with the abnormal impulses that cause the spasms, relaxing the tightness and alleviating the cramps and pain for the patient.

Baclofen pumps may be helpful to someone experiencing spasms from multiple sclerosis.
Baclofen pumps may be helpful to someone experiencing spasms from multiple sclerosis.

For some patients, direct delivery of an antispasmodic drug to the CNS is the most effective way to control the spasms. Baclofen pumps are made up of a thin tube called a catheter, and a pump mechanism that holds medication and delivers it into the body through the catheter. An operation is necessary to insert the pump, which is a flat disc, under the skin of the patient's tummy, and the catheter into the fluid of the spinal column. The pump is programmed to deliver a specific dose of drug into the CNS at particular times.

After the insertion of a baclofen pump, the patient only needs to have the pump refilled every few weeks or every few months. The amount of time between refills depends on the type and intensity of spasms the patient suffers from. As the drug is delivered directly where it works in the body, the dose can be lower than in the tablet form. The pump itself need only be replaced about every five years or so, because the battery that powers the pump runs out.

Possible risks to baclofen pumps include seizures, hallucinations and a ringing in the ears. Depression can also occur, as can vision issues and problems breathing. Constipation, headaches and abnormal sensations in the fingers and toes are also possible.

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