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Diazepam (Valium)

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  • Helps you to relieve anxiety
  • Part of the anxiolytic-benzodiazepine group
  • Also effective for the treatment of insomnia
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Diazepam is a medication that belongs to a family of medications called benzodiazepines. These medications are often used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms and insomnia. Long term use if often not recommended, as this type of medication can become addictive.

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Read up

    • Diazepam is used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures (fits)
    • Some people are prescribed diazepam to help them relax before a medical procedure
    • Diazepam used to commonly be known as Valium, although this brand of diazepam is no longer available in the UK
    • Diazepam is commonly taken as a tablet, but can be prescribed in liquid form or as a rectal medication
    • It is recommended that diazepam is not taken for more than four weeks at a time
    • As diazepam can make you feel sleepy, you must not drive or use heavy machinery or tools whilst taking it
    • It is important to read the patient leaflet for a full list of side effects and cautions.

    Benzodiazepines including diazepam work by increasing certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals have a calming effect on the brain which can help to reduce anxiety, help your muscles to relax, or make you feel relaxed or drowsy. It can even stop seizure activity.

    Because diazepam can have lots of different effects, it is prescribed for a range of different medical conditions. These might include anxiety, difficulty falling asleep or as an emergency medication to be given during seizures.

    Because diazepam can make you sleep heavily, it is advisable not to consume alcohol when taking diazepam. The combined effect of alcohol and diazepam may lead to changes in your breathing and make it more difficult to wake up.

    For anxiety, difficulty sleeping or muscle stiffness, diazepam is taken by mouth as a tablet. People who have difficulty swallowing might be prescribed an oral solution instead.

    To stop seizures in children, rectal diazepam is often prescribed as it begins working quickly when administered in this manner.

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    When treating anxiety with diazepam, the most common starting dose is 2mg three times a day. If this does not have the desired effect, your doctor may increase the dose to 5mg or 10mg three times daily.

    Diazepam is also prescribed on a short term basis to help if feelings of anxiety are stopping you from falling asleep. In this case, the dose might vary from 5mg to 15mg taken before bed. 

    If you doctor wants to treat muscle spasms with diazepam, the dose can range from 2mg to 15mg. Your doctor will tell you how to divide this dose across each day. Higher doses of 20mg daily are sometimes prescribed to treat severe muscle spasms. 

    Like all medications, diazepam can have some side effects. The most common side effects include:

    • Feeling drowsy or sleepy 
    • Feeling confused
    • Reduced co-ordination
    • Problems controlling the movement of your arms and legs
    • Tremors (shaking that most commonly occurs in the hands).

    If these occur, keep taking the medication but speak to your doctor for advice.

    Rarely, more serious side effects can occur when taking diazepam. These include:

    • Changes to your breathing, including slow or shallow breaths
    • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (this could be a sign of a problem with your liver)
    • Memory problems
    • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
    • Delusions (thinking things that are not true)
    • Falling over.

    Very rarely, some people experience mood changes including agitation, restlessness, feeling irritable, aggressive behaviour, talking excessively or feeling over-excited. If this occurs, you should speak to your doctor straight away.

    If you have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) including breathlessness, lip or tongue swelling, call 999 immediately.

    Diazepam may not suit everyone. You should tell your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:

    • Liver or kidney disease
    • Sleep apnoea
    • Depression 
    • Thoughts of harming yourself or suicidal thoughts
    • Personality disorder
    • Alcohol or drug dependence 
    • Problems with blood flow including arteriosclerosis
    • Myasthenia gravis.

    You should also inform your doctor if you will be having a general anaesthetic soon for an operation or procedure.

    Sometimes diazepam is not suitable for people aged over 65, and a low dose may need to be tried at first.

    Some medications can interact with diazepam. You should let your doctor know if you take any of the following:

    • Medications for epilepsy
    • Medications for mental health problems, depression, anxiety
    • Sedative antihistamines
    • Strong pain killers
    • Antibiotics or antifungal medications
    • Medicines for heartburn or acid reflux
    • Asthma medications
    • Muscle relaxants.

    Occasionally, taking diazepam when pregnant or breastfeeding is recommended to make sure you remain well. Your doctor will be able to advise you on this.

    You should also tell your prescriber about any herbal remedies or supplements you take. This will allow your prescriber to check that diazepam will not interact with them.

    It is important that your doctor checks that diazepam will suit you. Your doctor should complete a thorough health questionnaire and review your current medications before prescribing this medication.

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