Phenobarbital is a medicine used to treat epilepsy, anxiety, and insomnia. Phenobarbital overdose occurs when someone takes too much of this medicine.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual overdose. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual overdose. If you or someone you are with overdoses, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Other names for this drug are:
Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.
Heart and blood vessels:
- Heart failure
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
Kidneys and bladder:
- Kidney failure (possible)
- Difficulty breathing
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Pneumonia (possible)
- Decreased energy
- Delirium (confusion and agitation)
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady gait
- Large blisters
Before Calling Emergency
The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength if known)
- The time it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
- If the medicine was prescribed for the person
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the pill container with you to the hospital, if possible.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood tests will be done to check the phenobarbital level.
Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
- Activated charcoal
- Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and ventilator (breathing machine)
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Fluids through the vein (intravenous or IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
This list may not be all-inclusive.
How well the person does depends on the severity of the overdose and how quickly treatment is received. If there has been prolonged coma and shock (damage to multiple internal organs), a more serious outcome is possible.
Aronson JK. Phenobarbital. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:678-687.
US National Library of Medicine; Specialized Information Services; Toxicology Data Network. Phenobarbital. Updated September 2, 2010. toxnet.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed February 9, 2017.
Review Date 1/31/2017
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.