Gabapentin

Sounds like 'gab-a-pen-tin'

Key points about gabapentin

  • Gabapentin is used to treat some types of nerve pain and epilepsy.
  • Gabapentin is also called Neurontin® or Nupentin®.
  • Find out how to take it safely and possible side effects.
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Gabapentin works by changing the way that nerves send messages to your brain. It has many uses, including:

  • to relieve nerve pain (also called neuropathy) – this occurs when damage or changes to your nerves, through injury or disease such as diabetes or shingles, causes them to misfire and send pain signals to your brain
  • to treat epilepsy by preventing some types of seizures.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, gabapentin is available as capsules. 

  • The dose of gabapentin is different for different people. 
  • Your doctor will usually start you on a low dose and increase the dose over a few days. This allows your body to get used to the medicine and reduces the chances of side effects.
  • Most people take 3 doses a day once they're on a regular dose. 
  • Always take your gabapentin exactly as your doctor has told you.
  • The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much gabapentin to take, how often to take it and any special instructions.  

My dose is:

Date Morning Lunch Night
       
       
       
       
Notes:



  • Timing: Take gabapentin at the same times each day. You can take gabapentin with or without food. Try taking it with food if it makes you feel sick (nauseous).
  • Swallow the capsules whole, with a glass of water: If you have problems swallowing the capsule, you can open it and mix the contents with apple sauce or orange juice, just before taking it. The capsule contents have an unpleasant taste.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol while taking gabapentin: Taking gabapentin and alcohol can make your more sleepy, drowsy or dizzy and increase your risk of falls.
  • Missed dose: If you forget to take your dose, take it as soon as you remember. But if it's nearly time for your next dose, just take the next dose at the right time. Don't take double the dose.
  • Pain relief is not immediate: If you're taking gabapentin for pain, it won't relieve pain immediately. It may take a few days before you feel less pain.
  • Keep taking gabapentin regularly: If you think gabapentin isn't working for you, don't stop taking it suddenly. Stopping treatment suddenly can cause side effects. Talk to your doctor or nurse before stopping. It's best to reduce how much you take slowly over at least 1 week.

Here are some things to know when you're taking gabapentin. Read the information in the section above on how to take gabapentin and the information in the section below on side effects where you will find important information on dizziness and drowsiness.

Gabapentin interacts with a number of medicines and herbal supplements so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting gabapentin and before starting any new medicines.

Don't take antacid preparations 2 hours before or after you have taken a dose.

For females of child-bearing age:

  • This medicine can potentially harm an unborn baby when taken during pregnancy. 
  • Use effective contraception for the whole time you are taking gabapentin.
  • If you're planning a pregnancy talk to your healthcare provider.
  • If you become pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider immediately. If you become pregnant and you're taking gabapentin for epilepsy, don't stop taking the medicine until you have talked to your healthcare provider.

Other things may be important as well, so ask your healthcare provider what you should know about.

Like all medicines, gabapentin can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine.

Problems with dizziness and drowsiness

This is quite common when you start taking gabapentin. Up to 1 in 3 people experience dizziness or drowsiness.

  • Be careful when driving or using tools until you know how this medicine affects you.
  • Also be careful when getting up from either lying down or sitting. The loss of balance and dizziness can put you at risk of falls and injuries, especially if you are older.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol while you're taking gabapentin. This can make dizziness and drowsiness worse. 

Tell your healthcare provider if these side effects are causing difficulties. You may need a lower dose.

Risk of dependence

Gabapentin can cause feelings of excitement and exaggerated happiness (often described as a high or euphoria). For some people, it can become habit forming. The risk of dependence may be higher if you have a history of misuse of alcohol and recreational drugs and if you are taking gabapentin in combination with certain other medicines.

To avoid gabapentin dependence:

  • Don't take higher doses.
  • Don't take more frequent doses.
  • Don't take it for longer than you were prescribed by a doctor.
  • Let your doctor know if you have any history of drug abuse, or start to feel any sense of high or desire for your next dose.
  • Let your doctor know if you start taking any new medicines for pain relief.


Always keep gabapentin in a safe place away from children, and don't share this medicine with others.

Other side effects

Side effects What should I do?
  • Stomach upset, feeling sick (nausea)
  • Try taking gabapentin with food.
  • Tell your doctor if this bothers you.
  • Weight gain 
  • This is quite common in the first few months of starting gabapentin.
  • Most people gain less than 2 kilograms, but up to 15% of people, depending on dose, gain more than 5 kilograms.
  • Follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  • Headache 
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • This may go away with time.
  • Tell your doctor if they bother you.
  • Ankle or leg swelling
  • This is more common in older people or if you're taking higher doses.
  • Tell your doctor.
  • Frequent mood changes, anxiety, depression or worsening depression, aggressive tendencies, thoughts of suicide, abnormal behaviours
     
  • Tell your doctor immediately or phone Healthline 0800 611 116.
  • Signs of an allergy such as skin rash, fever, flu-like symptoms, breathing difficulties.
  • Tell your doctor immediately or phone Healthline 0800 611 116.
Did you know that you can report a medicine side effect to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product.(external link)

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland

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