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Side Effects Of Gabapentin: What You Should Know

Statistically speaking, gabapentin has been prescribed over 18 million times since 2004 in the United States. As of 2017, the number of prescriptions for this medication has increased over 46 million across the nation. Used primarily to treat epilepsy, it is also prescribed to treat many other conditions such as neuropathic pain, hot flashes (due to menopause), and Restless legs syndrome (RLS).

In the case of epilepsy, research indicates that approximately 1.1 percent of the U.S. population currently lives with the disorder; the condition is observed equally among women and men. As of 2015, there are 2.62 million adults diagnosed with epilepsy in the U.S., and the median age group is 35 to 54 years old.  Epilepsy is a general terminology used to describe a group of related neurological (nervous system) disorders, characterized by recurrent seizures. These seizures can vary in seriousness and frequency, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. There are a variety of seizure ‘triggers’, or catalysts that may lead to epileptic seizures; these include but are not limited to stress, bright and/or flashing lights, lack of sleep, illness or fever, caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs.

While the cause of epilepsy is unknown in many cases, the disorder may be the result of a number of health issues, such as brain injury, brain tumors, stroke, high fever or a serious illness. Since epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes recurring seizures, it is a serious medical condition that can lead to life-long disability. Therefore, individuals suffering from this disorder will often require a prescription drug treatment to manage their epileptic seizures. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, gabapentin helps prevent brain cells from working as fast as a seizure requires them to, essentially helping to stop an epileptic episode when it is just beginning.

In addition to treating epilepsy, gabapentin has been found to be a useful prescription drug therapy for a number of other medical conditions, among them chronic pain issues. For example, the drug has been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to treat the pain that follows shingles, clinically known as postherpetic neuralgia. And while the FDA hasn’t formally approved such usage, it is not only common, but legal for physicians to prescribe this medication for “off-label” usage for a host of different types of conditions beyond chronic pain, including certain mood disorders such as clinical anxiety. In fact, more individuals have taken and are prescribed gabapentin as a form of pain management therapy than to control seizures. However, just as in the case of nearly any other prescription medication, there are possible side-effects to be noted when taking gabapentin, no matter what health issue it is being prescribed for.

 What Conditions Is Gabapentin Used To Treat And How Does It Work?

There are three primary forms of gabapentin prescribed under three distinct brand names: Gralise, Horizant, and Neurontin; each one treats specific conditions and should only be used to treat the health issue they are prescribed for as indicated by your physician.

As noted earlier, gabapentin is an anti-epileptic medication and categorized as an anticonvulsant drug. With regard to epilepsy, it is used to treat the following types of epileptic seizures:

  • Focal Impaired Awareness or Complex Partial Seizures
  • Focal Aware or Simple Partial Seizure

Gabapentin works by affecting the chemicals and nerves within the human body that are involved in the cause of seizures, as well as some types of chronic pain. The Neurontin brand of gabapentin is used to treat seizures in adults and children ages three years and up. However, it is also used for the following conditions, including but not limited to:

  • Shingles (herpes zoster): Also known as postherpetic neuralgia, gabapentin has been identified and prescribed as an effective treatment in adult to allay nerve pain caused by herpes virus or shingles.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS): The Horizant brand of gabapentin is also used to treat RLS, or Restless legs syndrome.
  • Diabetic neuropathy: In addition to treating the chronic pain that many adults experience after shingles, gabapentin is also used to treat chronic diabetic neuropathy (commonly referred to as diabetic nerve pain) due to adult diabetes.

Since there are several different brands and forms of gabapentin as outlined above (and many different uses as clinically prescribed), be certain to use only the form, brand and correct dosage as prescribed by your family doctor. Make sure you check your medication each time you pick up your refill to confirm you’ve received the correct form/dosage of gabapentin appropriate to your specific condition.

Gabapentin Side Effects: What Are They?

Gabapentin has been shown to be a fairly safe medication when used properly and as directed by a physician. However, side effects are possible, and individuals who misuse the medication are at risk for additional side effects.

Some of the most common side effects of gabapentin include:

  • Abnormal eye movements (e.g., continuous, uncontrolled, back-and-forth, or rolling)
  • Ankle swelling
  • Clumsiness or unsteadiness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness or tiredness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain

In the event that you or a family member are prescribed gabapentin and observe any of the aforementioned side-effects, it’s important to reach out to your physician right away. Sometimes your doctor will adjust the dosage prescribed or the time when you take it in order to improve the outcome. Never stop taking any medication or change dosages without the express consultation of your physician.

Additionally, gabapentin can also result in serious side effects. While most of these side effects are uncommon, they may be more prevalent in individuals who have psychiatric disorders.

Serious side effects of gabapentin include:

  • Allergic reactions (such as hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of face, lips, tongue or throat)
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
  • Mood or behavior changes (such as aggressive/violent behavior, mania, anxiety or restlessness, mental or physical displays of hyperactivity; feeling angry, agitated, depressed, hostile, irritable, impulsive, or other extreme change in mood)
  • Muscle aches
  • Panic attacks
  • Severe weakness
  • Skin rash
  • Suicidal thoughts/behavior
  • Swollen glands
  • Unusual bruising of the skin
  • Yellowing of skin and/or eyes

In addition, call your physician right away if you or another person in your household taking gabapentin experiences the following side-effect symptoms:

  • Chest pain, new or worsening cough with fever, trouble breathing
  • Extreme weakness/tiredness
  • Increased seizures (for those taking gabapentin for epilepsy)
  • Kidney problems (little or no urination, painful/difficulty when urinating, swelling in feet or ankles
  • Problems with balance or muscle movement
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Severe tingling or numbness
  • Upper stomach pain

If you or a loved one are taking gabapentin and experience any of these symptoms, be sure to get emergency medical help immediately.  

Side Effects Of Gabapentin In Children: What Every Parent Should Know

There are certain side effects of gabapentin that are more commonly observed in children. Be sure to contact your physician immediately if the child taking the medication displays any of the following side effects:

  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Showing signs of aggression, hostility, restlessness or hyperactivity

Common side effects of gabapentin observed in children taking the drug include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In any case, if your child displays any signs as indicated above, be sure to contact your physician right away or go to the ER in the event of an emergency. As this is not a complete list of side effects, there are others that may occur; therefore discuss any questions you may have with your doctor upon receiving your child’s prescription for gabapentin. In addition, be sure to talk to your physician regarding proper dosing, including when your child should take the medication, how much he or she should take, and other important instructions. 

Are There Risks With Gabapentin That I Should Discuss With My Doctor?

According to studies, many individuals who are prescribed gabapentin for various medical conditions report an overall improvement in their sense of mood and general well-being. In fact, some doctors are exploring whether or not the drug can be used to treat psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. However, as indicated throughout this article, there are various risks and side effects, both common and serious – and all of the potential signs and symptoms affiliated with side effects should be discussed in detail during your doctor’s appointment. Whether the medication is being prescribed for you or a family member, it’s critical to self-educate. This includes learning as much as possible about medications you or your child are prescribed by your doctor, as well as what other OTC and prescription medications to avoid, when to take your meds, dosing requirements, activities to avoid, lifestyle changes (if any), and other commonly-asked questions concerning any new or existing prescription regimen. Being your own self-advocate for the care of yourself or a loved one is not only important, but essential: the more you know about your condition and how to treat it, the better you can manage it. 

Regardless of the medical condition you’re being treated for, it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your physician when taking gabapentin or for that matter, any prescription drug. By providing your doctor with feedback, you can give him important information about how you (or a loved one, including your child or elderly family member) are feeling, both mentally and physically. Consequently, your physician can make any adjustments to your dosage as needed, or wean you off of the medication if it is not working for you. For people who have just begun taking gabapentin – or for patients who have just started taking a higher dosage – it’s important to proceed with caution during activities that may be dangerous (such as driving or operating a motor vehicle of any kind) until it’s known whether the user is experiencing any sort of side effects. You can report side effects of gabapentin or any other prescription medication to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

 

Sources Cited:

1)      “Number of gabapentin prescriptions in the U.S. from 2004 to 2017 (in millions).” Statista.com, (no publish date), https://www.statista.com/statistics/781648/gabapentin-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/. Accessed May 30, 2020.

2)      “Epilepsy.” Drugs.com, (no publish date), https://www.drugs.com/health-guide/epilepsy.html. Accessed May 30, 2020.

3)      “Gabapentin.” Epilepsy Foundation (epilepsy.com), (no publish date), https://www.epilepsy.com/medications/gabapentin. Accessed May 30, 2020.

4)      “Side Effects of Gabapentin.” Healthline.com, (no publish date), https://www.healthline.com/health/epilepsy/gabapentin-side-effects. Accessed May 30, 2020.

5)      Yamauchi, Toshio; MD, PhD; Kaneko, Sunao; MD, PhD; Yagi, Kazuichi; MD, PhD; Sase, Shinichi; mpharm. “Treatment of partial seizures with gabapentin: Double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study.” Wiley Online Library (onlinelibrary.wiley.com), July 17, 2006, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1440-1819.2006.01553.x. Accessed May 30, 2020.

6)      “Neurontin.” RxList.com, (no publish date), https://www.rxlist.com/neurontin-drug/patient-images-side-effects.htm#whatis. Accessed May 30, 2020.

7)      “Neuropathic Pain Management.” WebMD.com, (no publish date), https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/neuropathic-pain#1. Accessed May 30, 2020.