What They Are and How to Manage Them

If you have high blood pressure, you may be interested in learning more about clonidine. It’s a generic prescription drug used to treat high blood pressure in adults.

Clonidine comes as a tablet that you take by mouth. It is also available as a patch, an injectable, or an extended-release tablet, but this article does not discuss these types.

If clonidine works for you, your doctor will likely recommend that you take it long term.

This article describes clonidine’s side effects, also known as adverse effects. For more information about clonidine, including details about its uses, see this in-depth article.

Some people may experience mild to serious side effects during their clonidine treatment. Examples of clonidine’s commonly reported side effects include:

  • dry mouth*
  • drowsiness or sedation*
  • dizziness
  • constipation

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.

Clonidine may cause mild side effects in some people. Examples of mild side effects that people taking clonidine have reported include:

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.
† An allergic reaction is possible after using clonidine. But it’s not clear whether this side effect occurred in studies.

In most cases, these side effects should be temporary. And some may be easily managed. But if you have any symptoms that are ongoing or bother you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. And don’t stop taking clonidine unless your doctor recommends it.

Clonidine may cause mild side effects other than the ones listed above. See the drug’s prescribing information for details.

Serious side effects can occur during clonidine treatment, but this is uncommon.

Serious side effects that people taking clonidine have reported include:

If you develop serious side effects while taking clonidine, call your doctor right away. If the side effects seem life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.

* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.
† An allergic reaction is possible after using clonidine. But it’s not clear whether this side effect occurred in studies.

Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks side effects of the medication. If you’d like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with clonidine, visit MedWatch.

Get answers to some frequently asked questions about clonidine’s side effects.

Does my risk of side effects depend on the clonidine dose I’m prescribed (such as 0.1 mg, 0.2 mg, or 0.3 mg)?

Yes, it’s possible that your risk of side effects may vary based on what dose of clonidine you take. For example, people taking a higher dose, such as 0.3 milligrams (mg), may have a higher risk of side effects than someone taking a lower dose, such as 0.1 mg.

Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure throughout your clonidine treatment. They may increase your dose over time to better manage your blood pressure. But this may raise your risk of side effects.

Your doctor will help determine the best dose of clonidine to manage your blood pressure. Most side effects are mild and may go away as you continue treatment. But if you experience bothersome side effects from clonidine, talk with your doctor about your dose.

Could I have withdrawal symptoms if I suddenly stop taking clonidine?

Yes, it’s possible to have withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking clonidine. (Withdrawal symptoms are side effects that can occur when you stop taking a drug that your body has become dependent on.)

Withdrawal symptoms that can occur when suddenly stopping clonidine treatment may include:

  • nervousness or agitation
  • headache
  • tremor
  • increased blood pressure
  • stroke and death in rare cases

Due to these risks, you should not stop taking clonidine without first talking with your doctor. If you do need to stop treatment, your doctor will slowly decrease your dose over 2 to 4 days to lower your risk of having withdrawal symptoms. They may also recommend a different treatment option for your high blood pressure.

Is bradycardia (slow heart rate) a side effect of clonidine?

Yes, bradycardia is a possible side effect of clonidine. Though this was not one of the more common side effects in studies of clonidine, it can occur.

Symptoms of bradycardia may include:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • fatigue (low energy)
  • fainting

Bradycardia can also be a symptom of an overdose of clonidine. Overdose symptoms can occur if you take too much clonidine. It’s important to always take the dose of clonidine that your doctor prescribes.

If you develop symptoms of bradycardia during your clonidine treatment, talk with your doctor.

Can taking clonidine cause weight gain or hair loss?

Yes, weight gain and hair loss could occur with clonidine use. But these side effects were not common in people taking clonidine in studies. And these people may also have been taking other blood pressure medications, so it’s unknown if clonidine caused the hair loss and weight gain.

If you experience hair loss during your clonidine treatment that bothers you, talk with your doctor. In some cases, they may be able to recommend over-the-counter medications such as minoxidil (Rogaine) to treat your hair loss.

If you experience weight gain during your treatment that concerns you, talk with your doctor. Though it’s possible for clonidine to cause weight gain, heart failure may also be a side effect of clonidine. And a symptom of heart failure is weight gain. Your doctor can try to determine what may be causing your weight gain and the best treatment options for you.

Do older adults have a higher risk of clonidine’s side effects than younger people?

Yes, older adults (ages 65 years or older) may have a higher risk of side effects from clonidine than younger people. This is because an older adult’s body may break down clonidine more slowly. This could cause the drug to build up in the body, which increases the risk of side effects.

Due to this risk, doctors may recommend that people ages 65 years or older take a lower dose of clonidine. Your doctor can determine what the best dose of clonidine is for you.

Learn more about some of the side effects clonidine may cause.

Dry mouth

Some people may experience dry mouth while taking clonidine. In fact, dry mouth was the most common side effect that people taking clonidine reported in studies.

What might help

If you develop a dry mouth during your treatment that bothers you, talk with your doctor. They may be able to recommend ways to manage this side effect, such as chewing gum or using mouthwash or lozenges.

Drowsiness or sedation

Drowsiness or sedation (extreme sleepiness) can occur from taking clonidine. These were common side effects that people taking clonidine reported in studies.

With sedation, you may move more slowly than usual or have slower reactions. Drowsiness can cause you to feel more sleepy than usual.

What might help

If you experience drowsiness or sedation from taking clonidine, talk with your doctor. In some cases, they may adjust your dose so that you take a higher dose before bed. This can help prevent sedation or drowsiness during the day.

Because clonidine can cause sedation or drowsiness, you should not drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how the drug will affect you.

Alcohol or other drugs that can cause sedation and drowsiness might worsen these side effects of clonidine. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid alcohol, other sedatives, or drugs that cause drowsiness while you’re taking clonidine.

Constipation

Clonidine may cause constipation in some people. This was a common side effect that people taking clonidine reported in studies.

What might help

If you develop constipation during your clonidine treatment, talk with your doctor. In some cases, they may recommend treatment options for your constipation. For example, taking an over-the-counter drug such as polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX) may relieve constipation.

Sexual side effects

Sexual side effects are possible while taking clonidine, but these side effects weren’t common in studies of the drug. Examples of sexual side effects that people taking clonidine reported include:

What might help

If you have any sexual side effects during your treatment that bother you, talk with your doctor. They may recommend treatment for these side effects. For example, sildenafil (Viagra) may be used to treat ED. It’s important to note that many drugs used to treat ED, such as sildenafil, may lower your blood pressure. In some cases, this may be unsafe if you’re taking clonidine.

If you’re concerned about the sexual side effects of clonidine, talk with your doctor about your treatment options.

Allergic reaction

Like most drugs, clonidine can cause an allergic reaction in some people. But it’s not clear whether this side effect occurred in studies.

Symptoms can be mild to serious and can include:

  • skin rash
  • itchiness
  • flushing (temporary warmth, redness, or deepening of skin color)
  • swelling under your skin, usually in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
  • swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, which can make it hard to breathe

What might help

If you have mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a mild rash, call your doctor right away. They may suggest a treatment to manage your symptoms. Examples include:

  • an antihistamine you take by mouth, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • a product you apply to your skin, such as hydrocortisone cream

If your doctor confirms you’ve had a mild allergic reaction to clonidine, they’ll decide if you should continue using it.

If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These symptoms could be life threatening and require immediate medical care.

If your doctor confirms you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to clonidine, they may have you switch to a different treatment.

Keeping track of side effects

During your clonidine treatment, consider taking notes on any side effects you’re having. You can then share this information with your doctor. This is especially helpful when you start taking new drugs or using a combination of treatments.

Your side effect notes can include things such as:

  • what dose of the drug you were taking when you had the side effect
  • how soon you had the side effect after starting that dose
  • what your symptoms were
  • how it affected your daily activities
  • what other medications you were taking
  • any other information you feel is important

Keeping notes and sharing them with your doctor will help them learn more about how clonidine affects you. They can then use this information to adjust your treatment plan if needed.

Clonidine may not be right for you if you have certain medical conditions. These are known as drug-condition interactions. Other factors may also affect whether clonidine is a good treatment option for you.

Talk with your doctor about your health history before starting clonidine. Factors to consider include those described below.

Heart problems. If you have heart problems, tell your doctor before taking clonidine. This drug may cause heart problems. If you already have heart problems, taking clonidine may worsen your condition. Your doctor can determine if it’s safe for you to take clonidine with your condition.

Kidney problems. Before starting clonidine treatment, tell your doctor if you have kidney problems. This drug is removed from your body by your kidneys. If your kidneys are not working well, clonidine levels can build up in your body. This can raise your risk of side effects. If you have kidney problems, your doctor may prescribe a lower dose of clonidine. Or in some cases, they may prescribe a drug other than clonidine for your condition.

Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to clonidine or any of its ingredients, your doctor will likely not prescribe clonidine. Ask them what other medications are better options for you.

Older adults. If you’re age 65 years or older, you may have a higher risk of side effects from clonidine. Your doctor may monitor you more closely during treatment to watch for side effects, and they may prescribe a lower dose of clonidine. Or in some cases, they may prescribe a drug other than clonidine for you.

Contact lenses. Clonidine may make your eyes dry, which can make contact lenses uncomfortable to wear. If you notice that your eyes are dry when taking clonidine, tell your doctor. They may recommend using eyedrops to relieve dry eye.

Alcohol and clonidine

Drinking alcohol while you’re taking clonidine is not recommended. This is because alcohol can raise the risk of side effects from clonidine, such as:

If you’re concerned about avoiding alcohol during your clonidine treatment, talk with your doctor.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding while taking clonidine

It’s unknown whether it’s safe to take clonidine during pregnancy. Human studies haven’t looked at this drug’s safety during pregnancy. But clonidine does cross the placenta, which means that a fetus would likely be exposed to the drug.

Taking clonidine while breastfeeding is not recommended. The drug passes into breast milk and could cause side effects in a child who is breastfed.

If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant or to breastfeed, talk with your doctor before taking clonidine.

Most side effects of clonidine are mild, but serious side effects are possible, too. If you have any questions about the side effects that clonidine can cause, talk with your doctor.

Examples of questions that may help you get started:

  • Can clonidine cause long-term side effects?
  • Do I have a higher risk of side effects due to my other medications?
  • Is my risk of side effects higher when I first start treatment?
  • Does my risk of side effects depend on the dosage I take?

To get information on different conditions and tips for improving your health, subscribe to any of Healthline’s newsletters. You may also want to check out the online communities at Bezzy. It’s a place where people with certain conditions can find support and connect with others.

Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.

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