Deriphyllin is the brand name for the combination of two very similar generic drugs: etophylline and theophylline. Etophylline -- also spelled as etofylline -- is a modified form of theophylline. Both drugs work in the same general way and have the same side effects. Theophylline has been available for use in the United States for decades. Etophylline and Deriphyllin have never been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but are available in other regions of the world. Deriphyllin is a bronchodilator that works by relaxing muscles in the air passages of the lungs. This causes the air passages to become wider, allowing air to flow in and out of the lungs more easily. It is used to prevent or treat wheezing and shortness of breath in people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Theophylline and etophylline are close relatives of caffeine, so many of the side effects are similar to those that occur with drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
Upset Stomach and Other Gastrointestinal Effects
An upset stomach, with nausea and sometimes vomiting, is one of the most common side effects of Deriphyllin. It is generally mild and temporary, improving with time as the body gets used to the drug. People who develop an upset stomach may also experience a transient decrease in appetite. Less commonly, Deriphyllin can produce other gastrointestinal effects, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and heartburn.
Restlessness, Insomnia and Headaches
Like caffeine, Deriphyllin can stimulate the brain, causing restlessness. This may interfere with the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, a side effect referred to as insomnia. Sometimes anxiety, agitation and irritability occur as well. Use of Deriphyllin can also cause headaches in some people. These are typically mild and may occur in any region of the head.
An increase in urination -- called diuresis -- is another possible side effect of Deriphyllin. In this way, Deriphyllin acts similar to a water pill, increasing the amount or frequency of urination. While this side effect can be annoying, it rarely causes significant dehydration and it often resolves with continued use of Deriphyllin.
Heart Beat Abnormalities
Deriphyllin can also stimulate the heart, causing it to beat faster. This may be felt as palpitations in the chest. Less commonly, the heart beat can become irregular. This is most likely to occur in people with severe lung disease that causes low oxygen levels in the body, according to the FDA prescribing information for theophylline. An irregular or very fast heart beat can lead to serious problems, including low blood pressure and chest pain.
Tremors and Seizures
Deriphyllin can sometimes cause small tremors, seen as involuntary muscle movements in the arms, legs or other body areas. Rarely, seizures may occur in people taking theophylline. They are most common in older individuals and people with a disorder affecting the brain. According to FDA prescribing information, seizures that occur with normal doses of theophylline are generally mild and stop on their own, without the need for treatment.
Overdose and Warnings
Although serious side effects, such as heart beat abnormalities and seizures, are uncommon when Deriphyllin is taken as prescribed, they are much more likely when too much medicine is consumed. These side effects are also more severe -- and potentially life-threatening -- if an overdose has occurred. Seek prompt medical attention if you think or know that you accidentally took too much of this medication.
Deriphyllin can interact with a large number of medications and supplements, many of which increase the likelihood of developing serious side effects. Tell your doctor about all of your other medicines and supplements while taking this drug. Like all medications, Deriphyllin may cause an allergic reaction. Seek immediate medical care if your heart beat is very fast or irregular or if you develop confusion, weakness, lightheadedness, chest pain, hives, swelling, seizures or any other severe or persistent symptoms.
Reviewed by: Mary D. Daley, M.D.