Hydrocodone Information: Pain Relief After Your Surgery

What You Should Know Before Taking Hydrocodone

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Use Caution When Combining Medications With Hydrocodone. Image: © Michael Hitoshi/Getty Images

What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a prescription pain reliever used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain.  It is often used for acute pain, such as the pain experienced after surgery, or after an injury.  For some individuals, hydrocodone is used for chronic, ongoing pain, such as back pain. 

Technically speaking, hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic.  This means that hydrocodone is a narcotic medication used for the treatment of pain and is produced from the poppy plant, similar to morphine.


Other Names For Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is known by many names, and is often paired with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to maximize pain relief.  You may see hydrocodone 5mg/Acetaminophen 325mg on the prescription. This means that each pill contains 5mg of hydrocodone and 325mg of Acetaminophen. 

When packaged as hydrocodone/acetaminophen this medication is commonly known as Lortab, Vicodin and Norco.  Vicoprofen is the name for this medication when paired with ibuprofen.   

Why Hydrocodone Is Used

Hydrocodone is most frequently used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. It is also used as a cough suppressant, and can be found in prescription cough syrup. 

Dosing of Hydrocodone

A typical dose of hydrocodone is 5, 7.5 or 10mg.  Higher doses are available, but the lower doses are much more common.  Standard dosing is every four to six hours for pain.  Extended release medication is likely to be taken every twelve hours.


How Hydrocodone is Taken

This medication is available as a capsule, liquid or tablet.  The liquid formulation is most often used in cough syrup. 

Side Effects of Hydrocodone

Like all narcotics, hydrocodone can cause itching, drowsiness and sedation, constipation, decreased cough, and can result in nausea and vomiting.


This medication, especially in higher doses, can decrease breathing. Taking this medication with an additional medication known to cause drowsiness, such as a sleeping pill or muscle relaxant or even Benadryl can be dangerous as they can increase the chances of breathing less or not at all. 

You should not drive or operate machinery while taking this medication until you know how it will affect you.

Like all narcotics, hydrocodone has the potential for addiction and abuse.  Taking this medication according to the directions, and stopping it when pain is manageable without it, is key to avoiding physical and mental addiction.  Using methods other than medication to manage pain after surgery is also helpful. 

Use In Pregnancy and Breast Feeding

This medication is a Category C medication, and should be used with caution during pregnancy.  Hydrocodone should be used in pregnant women when the benefits of the medication outweigh the risk to the fetus.  

Extended, regular use of this medication during pregnancy can result in neonatal opiate withdrawal syndrome, meaning that the newborn will be physically addicted to hydrocodone and experience withdrawal when no longer receiving the medication from the mother.


This medication should not be taken while breast feeding as the medication does enter the breast milk and can affect the nursing infant causing sedation, decreased breathing and in severe cases, an overdose.

Signs and Symptoms of Overdose

An overdose of hydrocodone will cause significant sedation.  The individual may have difficulty waking or may not wake when spoken to or even shaken.  The individual may lose their gag reflex, may have decreased breathing and breathing may even stop. 

An individual who has overdosed may feel that they are having trouble breathing, may be confused or act “drunk.”  They may have a slow heart rate, slow breathing rate, may be dizzy, confused or feel cold/clammy to the touch.


If these symptoms are present, call 911 for immediate treatment. Do not drive the patient to the hospital yourself. There is a medication available, called Narcan, that EMS can provide that can reverse the effects of an overdose while on the way to the hospital. 

A Word of Warning about Tylenol (Acetaminophen)

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) should not be taken in doses higher than 3,000-4,000 milligrams per day.  Hydrocodone is often packaged with acetaminophen.  Do not take other medications that contain acetaminophen while taking hydrocodone.  If you must take additional acetaminophen, make sure your daily dose does not exceed 4,000mg if you are otherwise healthy, and 3,000mg if you have a liver problem, or drink alcohol frequently or in large amounts. 


Hydrocodone Monograph. Accessed March, 2016. http://www.drugs.com/monograph/hydrocodone-bitartrate.html

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