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What is Procaine?

By K. K. Lowen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Procaine, also known as novocaine, is a local anesthetic used in association with penicillin. Local anesthetics numb a specific region of the body, whereas a general anesthetic desensitizes the entire body. When a doctor injects penicillin directly into muscle, it can be very painful for the patient, but numbing the injection site with procaine may decrease the discomfort. Patients also may receive the anesthetic during minor surgery or dental work to cause a lack of sensitivity in areas of skin and mucous membranes.

Originally synthesized in 1905, procaine replaced cocaine as the most frequently employed local anesthetic. The introduction of procaine was a key step in the progression of anesthetics because it was less dangerous and more effective than its predecessors. When used as an anesthetic, cocaine gave patients unnecessary feelings of euphoria. Additionally, the risk of addiction and misuse associated with cocaine were not shared with procaine, making it a safer option for medical treatment.

Formally referred to as procaine benzylpenicllin, procaine penicillin is a combination of the anesthetic and a type of penicillin. The purpose of the mixture is to lessen the pain of a deep muscle injection. Veterinarians use the shots more than physicians because other medications, such as lidocaine, are more effective when used by humans. Doctors still find the combination useful for patients, particularly during syphilis treatments.

This anesthetic is sold under the brand name Novocain® for commercial use. People sometimes refer to generic procaine as novocaine because of the trade name’s popularity. The term novocaine is particularly popular when associated with dentistry, in which the local anesthetic properties numb the mouth before dental procedures.

There are a number of side effects related to the use of procaine. Adverse reactions are uncommon, but usually require medical attention. The most frequent negative response is an allergic reaction, which may cause swelling of various body parts, breathing trouble, and hives. Other side effects include nausea, dizziness, general discomfort, and in rare cases convulsions or seizures.

Before receiving procaine, patients should inform their health care professionals of existing health conditions and current medications. Heart ailments and problems with blood clotting are of particular concern because the anesthetic may enlarge blood vessels. Patients with serious medical conditions may be especially susceptible to adverse reactions. Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant also may choose to avoid the drug. Speaking with a doctor about current medications is important and may help patients avoid a dangerous drug interaction or other unwanted negative effects.

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