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What is Gabapentin?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gabapentin may be better known by its brand name Neurontin®. It was developed by the drug company Pfizer®, and first approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1994. Initial uses of the drug were as a partial treatment for epilepsy, as used in conjunction with other anti-seizure medications. It is also now approved for the treatment of some chronic pain conditions, including postherpetic neuralgia, pain that may occur for a long time usually after people have a case of shingles. Doctors may also prescribe gabapentin for migraines or chronic pain conditions, but undoubtedly the drug’s most controversial use is in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

There are numerous dosage amounts of gabapentin, and it can often be prescribed in high doses, exceeding 1200 mg. It is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women because effects on the fetus or nursing babies have not been studied significantly. Use in children needs to be watched carefully, as some children may develop memory loss, depression, hyperactivity, mood changes, or challenges concentrating. These symptoms in children necessitates contacting the prescribing physician immediately. There is also some indication that gabapentin may increase risk for suicidal behavior in children, teens, and young adults.

Other serious side effects that warrant immediately contacting a doctor include sudden loss of coordination, irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, persistent sore throat, swelling of the arms and legs, significant stomach pain, shaking or tremor, and bleeding or heavy bruising that doesn’t have a clear cause. Most people won’t experience these side effects, but they may experience other common ones that aren’t dangerous. These could include weight gain, dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, constipation, tiredness, or changes in vision. Many of these side effects are transient and will go away as people adjust to the medication, but if they become bothersome, people should alert their physicians.

Some medications may interact with gabapentin. Some common ones include hydrocodone (Vicodin), most antacids, morphine and naproxen sodium (Aleve®). Taking these medications doesn’t necessarily mean that a person can’t take gabapentin also, but dosages may need to be adjusted, or timing of taking these meds might need to be carefully scheduled.

There continues to be excellent research supporting the use of gabapentin for its FDA approved treatments. Unfortunately, off-label use for bipolar disorder, which was extremely common in the late 90s and early 2000s, proved to be an expensive and unfortunate mistake. Pfizer® has admitted to exaggerating results of studies they performed that proved Neurontin’s efficacy as a mood stabilizer.

Subsequent independent studies have found that gabapentin has little to no effect on mood. Several lawsuits have resulted from Pfizer’s deliberate misdirection, yet some doctors continue to prescribe the medication despite these findings. There may be evidence that a very small percentage of patients find some benefit from this drug as adjunct therapy for bipolar disorder, but there is little evidence this medicine should be viewed as first, or even second-line treatment for the condition.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Dec 30, 2013

@donasmrs-- Yes, I've gained a lot of weight on gabapentin, about fifteen pounds. I'm on it for chronic migraines. I hate this side effect but this is the only medication that has worked for me. I had to choose between debilitating migraines and weight gain and I chose weight gain. Unfortunately, there isn't anything that could be done about this side effect.

I think with every medication, we have to compare the advantages and disadvantages. If the advantages are greater, then we have to try and deal with the side effects. I don't know why you're on gabapentin but you should ask your doctor if there is an alternative medication you could take.

By donasmrs — On Dec 29, 2013

Has anyone gained weight while on gabapentin? I started the medication a few months ago and I'm definitely gaining weight. Is there any way to avoid this?

By stoneMason — On Dec 29, 2013

I was on morphine and gabapentin for nerve pain. I was already on morphine when my doctor asked me to try gabapentin. The gabapentin has worked great for me. It worked so well that I've cut down on morphine considerably. My doctor might me take me off of morphine in a few weeks.

I think gabapentin is a great drug, at least for pain. Of course, everyone should take it under the supervision of their doctor. Like the article said, these drugs can interact negatively.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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