Gabapentin (Neurontin) for Nerve Pain: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosages

Written by Mary | Last Updated on 
June 15th, 2019 at 12:27 am

Damaged nerves result in neuropathic pain, especially in individuals diagnosed with diabetes.

To treat nerve pain, medical practitioners may prescribe the patient gabapentin. 

The medication is normally given to people with depression or epilepsy, but it can also be used to treat nerve pain.

Anyone experiencing nerve pain and wishes to take gabapentin should know what it is, research on the benefits people with nerve pain, does it have any side effects, and what is the recommended dosage.

What is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin capsules

Gabapentin is an anti-seizure medication used in the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia and the pain that results after shingles and nerve pain. The prescription medication changes the way the nerves send messages to the brain. If the number of messages sent to the brain are reduced, the pain will also be reduced.

Other reasons why a medical practitioner may prescribe you with gabapentin include anxiety, headaches, hot flashes, hyperhidrosis, restless leg syndrome, hiccups, cocaine withdrawal, and alcohol withdrawal.

Common Side Effects

The common side effects include:

  • Ataxia
  • Difficulty speaking and walking
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid retention (swelling of the arms, legs, hands, and feet)
  • Hostility
  • Jerky movements
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Tremors
  • Unsteadiness
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Vomiting

The uncommon side effects include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Bruising
  • Chest and back pain
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth or hoarseness
  • Fever
  • Flu or cold like symptoms
  • Increased appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Motion sickness
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Upset stomach
  • Urinary problems
  • Viral infection
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain

Research On The Benefits

Cochrane performs and presents high quality and relevant research on various medications and treatments to increase people’s knowledge about healthcare and help them decide. The website published a research on gabapentin on June 9, 2017.

The authors of the research found clinical trials in which researchers gave gabapentin to adults to treat nerve pain in January 2017. The authors discovered 37 studies that complied with their requirements and performed randomized testing on 5,914 people by treating their nerve pain with gabapentin, placebo, or another form of medication.

The Findings

The studies they found went on for 4 to 12 weeks. Most studies reported positive outcomes for adults being treated with gabapentin for nerve pain. The results of the studies were mostly targeted towards experiencing pain after shingles and nerve damage due to diabetes.

The Results

3 in 10 people with shingles experienced a decrease in pain by half or more after taking it with 2 in 10 people experiencing a decrease in pain after taking a placebo.

5 in 10 people with diabetes experienced a decrease in pain by third or more after taking it with 3 in 10 experiencing a decrease in pain after taking a placebo.

Some of the most common side effects experienced by people who took gabapentin for nerve pain (6 in 10) include water retention, sleepiness, dizziness, and problems walking properly. 5 in 10 people experienced the same type of side effects after taking the placebo. No one suffered from any serious side effects after taking gabapentin and placebo.

The author stated that neurontin is more effective in treating chronic nerve pain, but it is not possible to determine if it will work for sure as it differs from person to person. Therefore, a person with chronic pain will need to take it to know for sure if it will work for them or not.

Final Conclusions

The authors concluded that gabapentin given at doses of 1800 mg to 3600 mg each day (1200 mg to 3600 mg gabapentin encarbil) can provide some people diagnosed with peripheral diabetic neuropathy or postherpetic neuralgia with a significant amount of relieve from nerve pain.

With a 50% reduction in the intensity of pain regarded as a positive outcome of the treatment, 3 or 4 out of 10 adults who participated in the research experienced this level of pain relief after taking gabapentin. 1 or 2 out of 10 adults who took a placebo reported experiencing the same level of pain relief as those who took gabapentin.

To put it briefly, it may not work for everyone and people may need to try it first to see if it works for them or not in reducing nerve pain.

How Long Does It Take To Work?

After you start to take it for nerve pain, you should see an improvement in the intensity of the pain over one to two weeks. However, for some people, it may take longer for gabapentin to work to reduce nerve pain whereas there are others who may feel a difference right away.

You will need to visit your medical practitioner on a scheduled to date so he/she can conclude if the nerve pain medication is working to relieve your pain or not. In the event it is not, they may either increase the dosage or switch your medication for another one.

If you do notice a difference in the level of pain you experience on gabapentin, your medical practitioner will advise you to continue taking it. You cannot become addicted to gabapentin, hence making it safe to take for continuous use.

Even though the chances of becoming addicted are low because its addictive potential is low, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, which is an essential part of physical addiction.

Even though the occurrence of someone becoming addicted is less, if they do become addicted to it, the treatment to stop being dependent on the medication is quite complex, but doable.

Illustration of nerve cells

Here are common signs of a person who has developed a dependency on gabapentin:

  • Lying about the symptoms or exaggerating their symptoms to their medical practitioner
  • Visiting more than one medical practitioner to receive additional doses of gabapentin
  • Changing medical practitioner after their original medical practitioner refuse to prescribe them gabapentin
  • Changes in social habits and/or social circles
  • Changes in grooming habits and personal hygiene
  • Continuous preoccupation with gabapentin
  • Feeling uneasy at the thought of gabapentin no longer being available to purchase
  • Refusing to stop taking it despite knowing the financial, social, or legal consequences they might experience
  • Failed attempts to quit taking the prescription medication

Recommended Dosage

In the beginning, your medical practitioner will prescribe you with a small dose, instructing you to take it between one and three times each day, but with time, they may gradually increase your dose. Usually, a minimum dose is 300 mg, three times each day, but your medical practitioner may increase it to 1200 mg, three times each day.

Your medical practitioner will inform you on how many times in a day you should take gabapentin to treat your nerve pain. For people who are on antacid medication, they should take it after two hours.

How to Take It

You should take it with a tall glass of water, with or without food. You should never increase your intake of gabapentin without your medical practitioner’s knowledge and approval. You may notice the benefits of taking gabapentin after a few days or two months, as it differs from person to person.

Others may need to increase the dosage of gabapentin, if required, for it to be effective. In the event you forget or miss your daily dose, you need to take it as soon as you remember. The only time that you should not take it immediately is if it is time for you to take your next dose. If that is the case, you need to skip the missed dose and take the next dose as you would normally do. You should never take two capsules at the same time.

However, gabapentin does not work for everyone. If you do not notice a difference in the severity of your pain after 6 to 8 weeks, you need to stop talk to your medical practitioner before you stop taking gabapentin.

You should never stop taking gabapentin or any other medication for that matter abruptly. If you suddenly stop taking it, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Your medical practitioner will gradually wean you off them.

Is It Right For You?

If you are battling with constant nerve pain and you think you need to take gabapentin to alleviate it, you need to visit your medical practitioner. When you do, tell your medical practitioner the following things:

  • If you are allergic to any ingredient or medicine
  • If you are currently on any medication or herbal medicine
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding or if you plan to conceive in the future
  • If you have a kidney issue
  • If you have or have had a history of alcohol, recreational drug, or over the counter medication abuse

Anyone diagnosed with nerve pain should consult with their medical practitioner on whether they should take gabapentin to treat it.

Natural Alternatives

While neurontin may be effective in reducing the symptoms of pain, it does not nothing to heal the underlying condition which causes the pain in the first place. Along with the side effects it comes with, many people seek natural alternatives like supplements and vitamins.