COPD Home > Terbutaline for Contractions

Terbutaline sulfate (Brethine®) is a prescription drug approved for the treatment of emphysema (a type of COPD) and asthma. As a beta-adrenergic receptor agonist, it works to help people with asthma breathe easier and to prevent (but not treat) asthma attacks.
 
Although the medication is not technically approved for this use, healthcare providers do sometimes use terbutaline to prevent contractions when they are premature (known as preterm labor or premature labor). Beta-adrenergic receptor agonists work on beta receptors in the body. When used for asthma, they cause airway muscles to relax. When used for contractions, they cause the muscles of the uterus to relax, which can help delay labor.
 
Keep in mind, however, that terbutaline cannot stop contractions altogether, nor can it delay labor for a long time once it has started. Rather, this medication is used to postpone contractions long enough so that medical attention can be sought for the premature infant.
 
(Click Terbutaline and Preterm Labor to learn more about this off-label use, including the possible risks and side effects that may occur in both the mother and infant.)
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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