An anti-convulsant drug, Gabapentin is typically prescribed in conjunction with other treatments to prevent seizures. It is also commonly used in adults to treat nerve pain brought on by an episode of shingles. Like with any prescription medication, however, understanding its purpose as well as the potential Gabapentin side effects it may cause is important for safe use and effective treatment.
What Is Gabapentin Used For?
Originally discovered more than 40 years ago, Gabapentin was developed by the Japanese who were in search of an alternative antispasmodic or muscle relaxant. After it was initially discovered, the Japanese researchers sold the formula to Parke-Davis, which then merged with Pfizer in 2000. It was after the merger that the effectiveness of Gabapentin for treating epileptics was discovered.
In initial studies, the treatment was given in low doses, so it was considered an add-on medication. With more recent research, however, it is being established as an effective monotherapy. At this time some physicians are using Gabapentin in doses up to 3,600 mg each day.
Currently the medication has been approved by the FDA for post herpetic neuralgia, seizures with and without generalization in patients with epilepsy who are 12 years and older, seizures in pediatric patients who are between 3 and 12 years, and moderate to severe restless leg syndrome. More research is being done to determine its effectiveness for treating a number of different conditions, including:
- Bipolar disorder;
- Postoperative analgesic;
- Migraine prophylaxis;
- Diabetic neuropathy;
Potential Side Effects of Gabapentin
As with any prescription medication, Gabapentin is not without potential side effects. Being aware of these potential Gabapentin side effects is an important step toward safe treatment. If you begin experiencing any of these side effects, it is important to continue taking your medication unless otherwise directed by your doctor and to make an appointment to discuss any necessary adjustments to your treatment regimen as quickly as possible.
This treatment can slow your thinking processes as well as your motor skills, contributing to dizziness and drowsiness. At present, it is not known how long each of these side effects may last. It is important to avoid driving or using heavy machinery as you begin taking this drug until you know how it will affect you.
The use of Gabapentin also increases your risk of developing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. If you feel depressed or notice in changes in your thoughts or behavior, contact your doctor immediately. Also talk to your doctor or a trusted care provider if you find yourself having thoughts about doing physical harm to yourself, including suicide.
Gabapentin is also a medication that may cause multiorgan hypersensitivity, also known as a drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms or DRESS. This condition can be life-threatening. So if you notice you develop symptoms such as a rash, fever, or swollen lymph nodes, call your doctor immediately.
More Common Side Effects
The drug may also cause a number of common side effects. Depending on the severity, these effects may go away with a couple of days to a few weeks. However, if they are more severe and don’t go away, you’ll need to talk with your doctor or pharmacist to evaluate different options. Some of the more common Gabapentin side effects include:
- Loss of coordination;
- Jerky movements;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Difficult speaking;
- Double vision;
- Unusual eye movements;
- Swelling in the legs and feet.
Every individual responds to medication differently. These effects are less common but still warrant noting with their frequency of occurrence. Less common Gabapentin side effects include:
- Black, tarry stool;
- Memory loss;
- Shortness of breath;
- Sore throat;
- Sores or ulcers in the lips and/or mouth.
Serious Gabapentin Side Effects
Some individuals may experience serious, but rare side effects. If you experience these effects, call your doctor immediately. If your symptoms feel life-threatening or you believe you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 911. Serious Gabapentin side effects include:
- Changes in mood or anxiety including thoughts of suicide or dying, aggressive or violent behavior, and extreme increase in activity or talking;
- Changes and behavior or thinking such as emotional changes, restlessness, aggressiveness, and hyperactivity;
- Allergic reaction involving skin rashes, hives, fever, swollen glands, yellowing of the skin or eyes, unusual bruising or bleeding, and unexpected muscle pain.
Gabapentin may interact with other medications, vitamins, and herbs you may be currently taking. An interaction is described as when a substance alters the way a drug works. This interaction can be harmful or prevent the drug from doing its intended job.
To avoid interactions, it is important that you make your doctor aware of all medications, vitamins, and herbs you are taking. Before beginning a treatment regimen, discuss with your doctor how your other medications may interact. Some of the drugs that may cause interaction with Gabapentin include:
Certain pain medications can alter the amount of Gabapentin in your body when taken in combination with this treatment. This interaction may change how well the treatment works. An interaction may also increase your side effects on the drug. The most common pain drugs that cause interactions with Gabapentin are hydrocodone and morphine.
Stomach Acid Drugs
Certain stomach acid medications may also decrease the amount of Gabapentin in your body, making it less effective. Taking the stomach acid medication at least 2 hours prior to taking Gabapentin may prevent this interaction. Common examples of these medications include aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide.
To treat adult epilepsy, Gabapentin is typically introduced with a titrated dosage. On day one a single 300 mg dose is given orally, day two 300 mg is given two times, and day three 300 mg is given three times. The maximum recommended dose is 3600 mg divided in three doses each day.
When used to treat pediatric epilepsy, started doses range from 10 to 15 mg/kg/day divided in 3 doses. The effective dose is reach with upward titration over a period of three days and is typically 25 to 35 mg/kg/day in three divided doses.
For treating post herpetic neuralgia, an adult is given the same titrated dose of 300 mg for days one through three. For this treatment, the dosage may be increased gradually as needed for pain relief with a maximum of 1800 mg per day over 3 doses.
To treat restless leg syndrome, adults typically take one 600 mg dose per day at roughly 5 PM. This treatment is intended for moderate-to-severe primary Restless Legs Syndrome in adults.
Gabapentin is an effective treatment for conditions, such as epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, and nerve pain. However, it can cause some concerning side effects, including depression, allergic reaction, and extreme drowsiness.
As with any prescription medication, it is important that you work with your doctor to make sure you get the correct dosage amount and follow an effective treatment plan. If you experience any side effects or are concerned how you are reacting to the medication, discuss your concerns with your doctor and/or pharmacist.