butalbital, acetaminophen, caffeine†


byoo-tal-bi-tal, a-seet-a-min-oh-fen, kaf-een

Trade Name(s)

  • Fioricet

Ther. Class.

nonopioid analgesics

(combination with barbiturate)

Pharm. Class.


† For information on acetaminophen component in formulation, see acetaminophen monograph


Relief of the symptom complex of tension (or muscle contraction) headaches (use should be short-term only as the butalbital component may be habit-forming).


Contains an analgesic (acetaminophen) for relief of pain, a barbiturate (butalbital) for its sedative effect, and caffeine, which may be of benefit in tension headaches.

Therapeutic Effect(s):

Decreased severity of pain with some sedation.


Absorption: Well absorbed.

Distribution: Widely distributed; crosses the placenta and enters breast milk.

Metabolism and Excretion: Butalbital primarily eliminated by kidneys as unchanged drug or metabolites (59–88% of dose); acetaminophen and caffeine primarily metabolized by liver.

Half-life: Butalbital = 35 hr; acetaminophen = 1–3 hr; caffeine = 3 hr.


PO15–30 min1–2 hr30 hr


Contraindicated in:

  • Hypersensitivity to individual components
  • Porphyria
  • Lactation:  Lactation.

Use Cautiously in:

  • History of suicide attempt or drug addiction
  • Chronic alcohol use
  • Severe hepatic or renal impairment
  • Severe cardiovascular disease
  • Patients concomitantly receiving other CNS depressants
  • OB:   Safety not established in pregnancy
  • Pedi:  Children <12 yr (safety and effectiveness not established);
  • Geri:  Appears on Beers list. Geriatric patients are at ↑ risk for side effects (dosage ↓ recommended).

Adverse Reactions/Side Effects

CNS: drowsiness, confusion, delirium, depression, dizziness, excitation, headache (with chronic use), insomnia, irritability, lethargy, nervousness, numbness, tingling

CV: palpitations, tachycardia

Derm: dermatitis, pruritus, rash, sweating

EENT: earache, nasal congestion, tinnitus

GI: constipation, dry mouth, dysphagia, flatulence, heartburn

MS: leg pain, muscle weakness

Resp: respiratory depression

Misc: fever, physical dependence, psychological dependence, tolerance

* CAPITALS indicate life-threatening.
Underline indicate most frequent.



Drug-Natural Products:

  •  St. John's wort  may ↓ barbiturate effect.
  • Concurrent use of  kava kava,  valerian,  skullcap,  chamomile, or  hops  can increase CNS depression.


PO (Adults): 1–2 capsules or tablets (50–100 mg butalbital) every 4 hr as needed for pain (should not exceed 6 tablets or capsules/24 hr).

Availability (generic available)

Capsules: butalbital 50 mg/acetaminophen 300 mg/caffeine 40 mg, butalbital 50 mg/acetaminophen 325 mg/caffeine 40 mg


Generic: 50 mg/325 mg/40 mg $119.95/100

Tablets: butalbital 50 mg/acetaminophen 325 mg/caffeine 40 mg


Generic: 50 mg/325 mg/40 mg $64.15/100

In Combination with: codeine Rx. See combination drugs.


  • Assess type, location, and intensity of pain before and 60 min following administration.
  • Prolonged use may lead to physical and psychological dependence and tolerance. This should not prevent patient from receiving adequate analgesia. Most patients who receive butalbital compound for pain do not develop psychological dependence.
  • Assess frequency of use. Frequent, chronic use may lead to daily headaches in headache-prone individuals because of physical dependence on caffeine and other components. Chronic headaches from overmedication are difficult to treat and may require hospitalization for treatment and prophylaxis.

Potential Diagnoses


  • Do not confuse Fioricet (butalbital, acetaminophen, caffeine) with Fiorinal (butalbital, aspirin, caffeine).

  • Explain therapeutic value of medication before administration to enhance the analgesic effect.
  • Regularly administered doses may be more effective than prn administration. Analgesic is more effective if given before pain becomes severe.
  • Medication should be discontinued gradually after long-term use to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Patient/Family Teaching

  • Instruct patient to take medication exactly as directed. Do not increase dose because of the habit-forming potential of butalbital. If medication appears less effective after a few weeks, consult health care professional. Dose of acetaminophen should not exceed maximum recommended daily dose of 4 g/day. Chronic excessive use of >4 g/day (2 g in chronic alcoholism) may lead to hepatotoxicity, renal or cardiac damage.
  • Advise patients with tension headaches to take medication at first sign of headache. Lying down in a quiet, dark room may also be helpful. Medications taken for prophylaxis should be continued.
  • May cause drowsiness or dizziness. Advise patient to avoid driving and other activities requiring alertness until response to medication is known.
  • Instruct patient to notify health care professional of all Rx or OTC medications, vitamins, or herbal products being taken and consult health care professional before taking any new medications.
  • Caution patient to avoid concurrent use of alcohol or other CNS depressants.
  • Advise patient to notify health care professional if pregnancy is planned or suspected or if breastfeeding.

Evaluation/Desired Outcomes

Decrease in severity of pain without a significant alteration in level of consciousness.