Healthy Living

Serious Gabapentin Side Effects

Serious Gabapentin Side Effects

Key Takeaways

  • Gabapentin is a drug prescribed to treat certain types of seizures and manage pain caused by nerve problems.
  • Rarely, gabapentin may cause serious drug reactions.
  • Gabapentin is known to increase the risk of suicidal ideation and thoughts.

Serious gabapentin side effects can be threatening to one's health, so it should be used with doctor’s supervision. Some of its side effects include aggressive and suicidal behavior. Gabapentin is a drug prescribed to treat certain types of seizures and manage pain caused by nerve problems. It is an anticonvulsant drug and used to treat symptoms caused by problems in the nerves. You need to have a prescription before buying gabapentin.

Like many drugs used for convulsions, gabapentin is known to cause an increased risk of suicidal behavior. The reason for this is unknown, but it is clear that patients taking the drug have higher incidences of suicidal thoughts compared to individuals not taking the drug. Therefore, gabapentin should be used with care and the patient taking it should be monitored at all times. Note that this side effect of the drug is rare.

Another important side effect of gabapentin is the worsening of symptoms it is indicated for. This is often troubling to new patients and their families. Some patients really need to take higher doses of gabapentin than others. Since doctors usually start at the lowest dose, some patients inevitably experience symptoms.

Another side effect to note for is somnolence and loss of body coordination. Gabapentin may cause irresistible somnolence, fatigue, and inability to control body movements. This side effect may occur in roughly 1 out of 5 individuals taking gabapentin.

Some people abuse gabapentin by taking more doses than needed. Gabapentin has some potential for addiction, which can be dangerous because the drug can trigger dangerous side effects.

Treatment with gabapentin requires you to keep in touch with your doctor to make dose adjustments and make sure that the drug works for your symptoms, and to check for early signs of side effects. You can really increase your safety and reduce the risk of side effects by using gabapentin with your doctor’s supervision.

What is gabapentin?

We will discuss here the basic pharmacology of gabapentin. Gabapentin is a drug with the chemical name 1-(aminomethyl)cyclohexaneacetic acid. Its exact mechanism of action is not yet fully understood, but it is made to mimic a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA. GABA works by dampening the excitability of neurons from electrical signals. Since gabapentin works like GABA, it helps tone down highly excited neurons or brain cells that cause seizures and muscle spasms.

The body metabolizes gabapentin in a unique manner. Unlike many drugs, the bioavailability of gabapentin actually decreases as the dose is increased. Furthermore, only 3 percent of the drug is actually taken up into the system; the rest is eliminated in the kidneys. The half-life of the drug is 5 to 7 hours, which is why you can take gabapentin up to three times a day to maintain its presence in your system. 

Is gabapentin a narcotic? Is it addictive?

Gabapentin is not a narcotic and does not belong to a list of narcotics in the United States. Narcotics are drugs including codeine, hydrocodone, methadone, hydromorphone, morphine, and fentanyl. These narcotic drugs can induce sleep. Although gabapentin may cause drowsiness, it does not put its user to sleep right away, unlike narcotics do.

However, there is evidence that gabapentin has some potential for abuse. Some people use gabapentin recreationally. Some of the effects of "gabapentin high" include relaxation, a sense of calmness, and other positive symptoms. Although gabapentin has such calming effects, users can also experience very undesirable altered mental states resulting in extreme drowsiness, lack of motivation, and foggy brain. It could be that illegally sold gabapentin contains other mind-altering substances, which can be dangerous to you.

Many users abuse gabapentin to achieve euphoria. Using gabapentin for health purposes can put you at risk as well, but your doctor knows this and so will only give you the drug as you need it. This is a good reason to visit your doctor often when taking gabapentin.

Gabapentin abuse is dangerous. Note that gabapentin may cause suicidal behavior, so its abuse can drive the individual to engage in self-harming behavior or even suicide.

Dosage of gabapentin

Gabapentin is taken by mouth. The dose of gabapentin depends on the condition it is prescribed for, and additional adjustments are needed if there are problems in the liver or kidneys. It is important to follow the prescribed dose to reduce the risk of side effects.

Gabapentin can be taken with or without food. Make sure to swallow gabapentin capsules whole. Do not cut, crush, or chew the tablets. Do not interchange different brands without asking your doctor.

You should know that gabapentin is taken in different doses: initial, maintenance, and maximum. Doctors first give the initial dose and make adjustments as necessary depending on its effects. Make sure to follow the dose in your prescription for your safety.

Gabapentin is used along with other medicines to treat seizures caused by epilepsy. The usual gabapentin dosages for adults are as follows:

1) For epilepsy - the initial dose is 300 mg once daily on day one, 300 mg twice a day on day two, and 300 mg three times a day on day three. The maintenance dose is 300 mg to 600 mg three times a day. The maximum dose of gabapentin is a total of 3,600 mg per day in three doses. Again, if the doses seem confusing, call your doctor at once.

2) For postherpetic neuralgia or nerve pain after a bout of shingles - The initial dose is 300 mg per day on day one, 300 mg twice a day on day two, and 300 mg three times a day on day three. Your doctor will adjust your dose to address pain, so give a call if you feel that the drug is not working.

The dose of gabapentin extended-release tablets (Horizant) for postherpetic neuralgia is different. The initial dose of Horizant is 600 mg per day for three days and should be taken in the morning. On day four, the dose is increased to 600 mg twice a day (1200 mg/day).

3) For restless legs syndrome - the dose is 600 mg once a day with food, and it must be taken at around 5 pm. Food slows down the release of the drug in the bloodstream, and taking it at 5 pm ensures that it will work at nighttime and relieve the symptoms.

Gabapentin in children

In children, gabapentin is only given for epilepsy. Gabapentin can be given to children at least 3 years old. 

1) For epilepsy in children 3 to 12 years old  - the initial dose is 10 to 15 mg/kg of body weight/day in three doses, and this continues for three days. The maintenance for children 3 to 4 years old is 40 mg/kg of body weight/day in three divided doses. The dose for 5 years old and older is 25 to 35 mg/kg of body weight/day in three divided doses. The interval between the doses of gabapentin should never exceed 12 hours.

2) For epilepsy in children older than 12 years - the initial dose is 300 mg on day one, 300 mg twice a day on day two, and 300 mg three times a day on day three. The maintenance dose can be implemented on day four, which is 900 mg to 1800 mg per day in three divided doses.

Note that your doctor may need to adjust your dose if you have kidney problems since gabapentin is excreted in the kidneys. The elderly and people having dialysis may have reduced kidney function, so they also need dose adjustments. Your doctor may order several urine tests to check the health of your kidneys.

Does gabapentin cause weight gain?

Gabapentin is not a drug associated with weight gain. Gaining or losing weight with gabapentin is uncommon, but it may happen.

Understand that there are lots of things that can cause changes in one's body weight, and that includes drugs used in conjunction with gabapentin. You may also tend to eat more or sleep more due to the pain-relieving effect of the drug, thereby causing weight gain. If you are concerned with the changes in your body weight, talk with your doctor right way.

Serious side effects of gabapentin

Gabapentin may cause serious side effects, which require immediate medical care. One of the most dangerous side effects is a serious allergic reaction. You may have an allergy or become allergic to gabapentin over time, which may trigger anaphylaxis. Symptoms include swelling of the lips, mouth, face, nose, or tongue, as well as hives, difficulty breathing, and skin rashes. If left untreated, it may result to shock and blockage of the airways, so you must be brought to the doctor right away if you have these symptoms.  

Another serious and common side effect of gabapentin is worsening symptoms. Some people need a higher dose of gabapentin to relieve symptoms. Monitor for things such as changes in one's mood or behavior, anxiety, depression, agitation, hostility, hyperactivity (mentally or physically), trouble concentrating, and restlessness. These symptoms may mean that your doctor has to adjust your gabapentin dose.

Rarely, gabapentin may cause serious drug reactions. Drug reactions with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms may present symptoms such as fever, rash, and inflammation of the heart, liver, kidneys, and muscles. Meanwhile, Stevens-Johnson syndrome causes the appearance of a red or purple rash that spreads, and cause painful blistering or peeling of the skin, along with fever, sore throat, swelling of the face or tongue, and burning pain in the eyes. These symptoms require immediate care.

Gabapentin is known to increase the risk of suicidal ideation and thoughts. This side effect can happen to anyone taking the drug for any reason, including adults and children. It may appear as early as a week after taking the drug for the first time. Your doctor will consider this risk before prescribing gabapentin. Make sure you are closely monitored by your friends, family, or co-workers. If your child is taking the drug, watch him or her for any changes in behavior or thoughts about self-harm. Go to the doctor right away for any changes in the patient's behavior, mood, or when suicidal behavior or thoughts are observed.

Although not directly caused by gabapentin, you should call your doctor right away if you have any signs or symptoms of kidney problems. Kidney issues may cause a sudden drop or very high levels of gabapentin in the body that can be dangerous. Watch out for passing out little to no urine, a painful or difficult urination, swelling in your feet or ankles, tiredness, and shortness of breath.

Watch out for the symptoms in children taking gabapentin. They include:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Memory problems
  • Restlessness
  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • Trouble concentrating

If your child has any of these symptoms, take him or her to the doctor right away.

Other serious side effects to watch out for while taking gabapentin include:

  • Severe weakness, tiredness, or drowsiness
  • Upper stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • New or worsening cough with fever
  • Trouble breathing
  • Severe tingling or numbness
  • Rapid back and forth movement of the eyes
  • Increased seizures

Less serious side effects of gabapentin

Gabapentin may cause side effects that are bothersome rather than serious. One of the side effects is drowsiness, which may happen with ataxia (loss of control over body movements), fatigue, and dizziness. Drowsiness may cause you to have problems at work, school, and home. More importantly, these symptoms may affect your ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. Therefore, avoid doing hazardous activities after taking gabapentin until you are sure that the dose you are taking does not cause serious dizziness or somnolence.

Other side effects of gabapentin:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of strength
  • Pain in the back or lower back
  • Blurring of vision
  • Having symptoms somewhat similar to colds or flu
  • Dementia
  • Delusions
  • Hoarseness
  • Trembling or shaking of the hands or feet
  • Increased hunger or appetite
  • Changes while walking or balancing problems
  • Clumsiness or unsteadiness
  • Bloating or indigestion
  • Increased thirst
  • Constipation
  • Productive cough
  • Loss of libido
  • Redness or swelling in the ear, eye, or eyelid
  • Excessive tearing or having eye discharge
  • Frequent urination
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • A runny nose or frequent sneezing
  • Twitching
  • Flushing or dryness of the skin
  • Unexplained loss or gain of weight
  • Fruit-like odor of breath