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Betahistine, sold under the brand name Serc among others, is an anti-vertigo medication. It is commonly prescribed for balance disorders or to alleviate vertigo symptoms associated with Ménière's disease. It was first registered in Europe in 1970 for the treatment of Ménière's disease.

Betahistine ball-and-stick.png
Clinical data
Trade names Serc, others
AHFS/ International Drug Names
Routes of
By mouth
ATC code
Legal status
Legal status
  • In general: ℞ (Prescription only)
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability ~100%[1]
Protein binding <5%[1]
Metabolism Liver[1]
Metabolites 2-(2-Aminoethyl)pyridine
• 2-Pyridylacetic acid[1]
Onset of action <1 hour (peak)[2]
Elimination half-life 3.5 hours[3]
Excretion Urine: 91%[1]
CAS Number
PubChem CID
ECHA InfoCard 100.024.625 Edit this at Wikidata
Chemical and physical data
Formula C8H12N2
Molar mass 136.194 g/mol
3D model (JSmol)


Medical usesEdit

Betahistine is used in the treatment of Ménière's disease and vertigo.[3] The supporting evidence for the efficacy of betahistine for Ménière's disease is of poor quality.[3] A 2011 Cochrane review of seven trials consisting of 243 patients with Ménière's disease concluded that there was insufficient evidence for any beneficial effect of betahistine on symptoms.[3] Most of the trials found a reduction in symptoms of vertigo and to a lesser extent tinnitus, but these effects may have been due to bias in study methodology.[3]


Betahistine is contraindicated for people with pheochromocytoma. People with bronchial asthma and history of peptic ulcer need to be closely monitored.

Side effectsEdit

Patients taking betahistine may experience following side effects:[4]

  • Headache
  • Low level of gastric side effects
  • Nausea can be a side effect, but the patient is generally already experiencing nausea due to the vertigo so it goes largely unnoticed.
  • Patients taking betahistine may experience several hypersensitivity and allergic reactions. In the November 2006 issue of "Drug Safety," Dr. Sabine Jeck-Thole and Dr. Wolfgang Wagner reported that betahistine may cause several allergic and skin-related side effects. These include rash in several areas of the body; itching and hives; and swelling of the face, tongue and mouth. Other hypersensitivity reactions reported include tingling, numbness, burning sensations, shortness of breath and laboured breathing. The study authors suggest that hypersensitivity reactions may be a direct result of betahistine's role in increasing histamine levels throughout the body. Hypersensitivity reactions quickly subside after betahistine has been discontinued.


Betahistine may also cause several digestive-related side effects. The package insert for Serc, a trade name for betahistine, states that patients may experience several gastrointestinal side effects. These may include nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. These symptoms are usually not serious and subside between doses. Patients experiencing chronic digestive problems may lower their dose to the minimum effective range and by taking betahistine with meals. Additional digestive problems may require that patients consult their physician in order to find a possible suitable alternative.


People taking betahistine may experience several other side effects ranging from mild to serious. The package insert for Serc states that patients may experience nervous-system side effects, including headache. Some nervous system events may also partly be attributable to the underlying condition rather than the medication used to treat it. The study by Jeck-Thole and Wagner also reports that patients may experience headache and liver problems, including increased liver enzymes and bile-flow disturbances. Any side effects that persist or outweigh the relief of symptoms of the original condition may warrant that the patient consult their physician to adjust or change the medication.



Betahistine is a strong antagonist of the histamine H3 receptor and a weak agonist of the histamine H1 receptor.[1]

Betahistine has two mechanisms of action. Primarily, it a full agonist on the H1 receptors located on blood vessels in the inner ear. This gives rise to local vasodilation and increased permeability, which helps to reverse the underlying problem of endolymphatic hydrops.

More importantly, betahistine has a powerful antagonistic effects at H3 receptors, thereby increasing the levels of neurotransmitters histamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA released from the nerve endings. The increased amounts of histamine released from histaminergic nerve endings can stimulate receptors. This stimulation explains the potent vasodilatory effects of betahistine in the inner ear, that are well documented.

Betahistine seems to dilate the blood vessels within the inner ear which can relieve pressure from excess fluid and act on the smooth muscle.

It is postulated that betahistine's increase in the level of serotonin in the brainstem inhibits the activity of vestibular nuclei.


Betahistine comes in both a tablet form as well as an oral solution, and is taken orally. It is rapidly and completely absorbed. The mean plasma elimination half-life is 3 to 4 hours, and excretion is virtually complete in the urine within 24 hours. Plasma protein binding is very low. Betahistine is transformed into aminoethylpyridine and hydroxyethylpyridine and excreted with the urine as pyridylacetic acid. There is some evidence that one of these metabolites, aminoethylpyridine, may be active and exert effects similar to those of betahistine on ampullar receptors.[5]


Betahistine chemically is 2-[2-(methylamino)ethyl]pyridine, and is formulated as the dihydrochloride salt. Its chemical structure closely resembles those of phenethylamine and histamine.[citation needed]

Society and cultureEdit

Brand namesEdit

Betahistine is marketed under a number of brand names including Veserc, Serc, Hiserk, Betaserc, and Vergo.


Betahistine is widely used and available in Europe, including in the United Kingdom.[1] Betahistine, used by 94% of physicians in the United Kingdom.

The brand Serc (betahistine) was approved by the US FDA about 50 years ago in the early 1970s for roughly 5 years as a vestibular supressant, for Ménière’s disease, but later approval was withdrawn because lack of evidence for efficacy and because the major report of effectiveness contained deficiencies and misrepresentations (Sampson, 2003). The withdrawal was upheld by a US court of appeals in 1968.

The Food and Drug Administration has been up and down on this medication (currently down). The fact that Betahistine is not FDA approved does not make it illegal.

Serc is not sold through ordinary US pharmacy chains but it can be obtained through US compounding pharmacies, and some Walgreens, with a prescription. Some insurances may cover it too. Betahistine can also be easily obtained through US compounding pharmacies and also from overseas pharmacies.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Anthony Dickenson (12 January 2017). Drugs in Neurology. Oxford University Press. pp. 408–409. ISBN 978-0-19-966436-8. 
  2. ^ Rebecca White; Vicky Bradnam (11 March 2015). Handbook of Drug Administration via Enteral Feeding Tubes, 3rd edition. Pharmaceutical Press. pp. 125–. ISBN 978-0-85711-162-3. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Adriana P. Tiziani (1 June 2013). Havard's Nursing Guide to Drugs. Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 1063–. ISBN 978-0-7295-8162-2. 
  4. ^ Sokolova L, Hoerr R, Mishchenko T (2014). "Treatment of Vertigo: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial Comparing Efficacy and Safety of Ginkgo biloba Extract EGb 761 and Betahistine". Int J Otolaryngol. 2014: 682439. doi:10.1155/2014/682439. PMC 4099171 . PMID 25057270. 
  5. ^ Botta L, Mira E, Valli S, Zucca G, Perin P, Benvenuti C, Fossati A, Valli P (June 2001). "Effects of betahistine and of its metabolites on vestibular sensory organs". Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 21 (3 Suppl 66): 24–30. PMID 11677836.