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Gabapentin: What To Know

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Gabapentin: What To Know

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication that helps control seizures in people with epilepsy. Some forms of gabapentin can also treat restless legs syndrome or certain types of nerve pain.

Gabapentin appears to work by altering electrical activity in the brain and influencing the activity of chemicals called neurotransmitters, which send messages between nerve cells.

Brand names for gabapentin include Horizant, Gralise, and Neurontin. The medication is available in capsule, tablet, or liquid form.

In this article, we describe the uses, dosages, and side effects of gabapentin. We also look into the associated risks and other safety considerations.

Uses

Gabapentin's primary use is to prevent or control seizures. It works by calming down nerve activity to reduce seizure intensity or occurrence.

Children and adults can take the drug. The Neurontin brand can treat one form of epilepsy in children as young as 3 years old.

Some people take other medications with gabapentin to control epilepsy symptoms.

Gabapentin can also help reduce post-herpetic neuralgia, a burning or stabbing nerve pain that is a common complication of shingles.

According to a 2017 review, oral gabapentin, at a minimum daily dosage of 1,200 milligrams, can reduce moderate or severe nerve pain that results from shingles or diabetes.

Extended-release gabapentin (Horizant) tablets can treat restless legs syndrome (RLS), a condition characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs and a strong or irresistible urge to move the lower limbs.

A study from 2016 suggests that gabapentin combined with oxycontin, an opioid painkiller, can control pain and increase the quality of life for people with severe cancer pain. However, doctors do not typically prescribe gabapentin for this purpose.

Gabapentin: What To Know

Dosage

The right dosage of gabapentin depends on several factors, including:

  • the type and brand of gabapentin
  • the strength of the product
  • the condition
  • the person's kidney function
  • their weight, age, and general health

The number of daily doses, the hours that should pass between the doses, and the length of time that a person takes gabapentin will vary among individuals.

A person should take some forms of gabapentin with food, but for other forms it is unnecessary.

Anyone prescribed the Horizant brand of gabapentin for RLS should take it only in the evening or at night.

Some brands or dosages require a person to break the tablets in half. Always use the other half with the next dose, or as soon as possible.

Never break or chew extended-release gabapentin tablets — always swallow them whole.

It is vital to take only the recommended dose of gabapentin and not to continue using it for longer than prescribed. If a person misses a dose, they should follow the instructions on labeling or call a pharmacist for advice.

Side effects

Gabapentin can cause side effects. According to a 2017 review, these effects were slightly more common in people taking gabapentin than a placebo.

The most common side effects, occurring in 10 percent of participants on gabapentin, were:

  • dizziness
  • sleepiness
  • water retention (swelling of the arms, hands, legs, and feet)
  • problems walking

Serious side effects were not common and were the same in those taking the placebo.

Children and older adults may be most susceptible to adverse reactions to gabapentin. Possible side effects include:

  • back or chest pain
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • upset stomach
  • increased appetite and weight gain
  • blurry vision
  • bruising
  • changes in mood
  • chills
  • a cough
  • fatigue
  • a fever
  • flu-or cold-like symptoms
  • hoarseness and dry mouth
  • memory loss
  • mouth ulcers
  • shortness of breath
  • a sore throat and swollen glands
  • trembling
  • urinary problems
  • weakness
  • uncontrollable eye-rolling

Gabapentin: What To Know

In children, some of the more common adverse reactions are:

  • anxiety, depression, or other mood changes
  • behavioral problems
  • changes in performance at school
  • hyperactivity
  • lack of concentration

Individuals taking gabapentin should talk to their doctors about any side effects that occur, especially if they are severe, ongoing, or get worse.

Seek emergency medical treatment if symptoms of a severe or allergic reaction occur. These include:

  • breathing difficulties
  • extreme dizziness
  • fever
  • hives
  • rash
  • severe weakness
  • swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
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