Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication that doctors often prescribe to prevent seizures in people with epilepsy. It is not a cure for epilepsy, but it can help people manage the condition. Gabapentin is generally safe, but it can cause side effects, some of which may require medical attention.
In this article, we look at the potential side effects of gabapentin and whether or not they differ between people of different genders. We also cover when to contact a doctor.
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication that doctors prescribe as an epilepsy treatment to prevent partial seizures.
Gabapentin cannot cure epilepsy, but it helps the brain prevent seizures. This drug can also act as a pain reliever for various conditions that affect the nervous system, such as postherpetic neuralgia, a pain that occurs due to shingles. It can also treat symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
However, doctors do not prescribe gabapentin to treat arthritis pain or acute pain that results from minor injuries.
Gabapentin is only available with a prescription. It comes in the following forms:
Gabapentin is a fairly safe medication when people take it according to a doctor’s instructions. However, some people may experience side effects.
Common side effects that generally do not require medical attention include:
- blurred vision
- cold or flu-like symptoms
- lack or loss of strength
- pain in the lower back or side
- swelling of the hands, feet, or lower legs
- trembling or shaking
Common side effects that do require medical attention include unsteadiness and back-and-forth or rolling eye movements that are continuous and uncontrolled.
Gabapentin can cause different side effects in children that may require medical attention. These include:
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Gabapentin may cause other long-term effects, including memory loss, weakened muscles, and respiratory failure.
Gabapentin can cause some rare but serious side effects. While these are uncommon, people should be aware of them and seek medical attention if needed.
Consult a doctor right away if you experience any of these behavioral changes:
- suicidal thoughts or behavior
- violent behavior, aggressiveness, or anger
- anxiety that is worse or new
- depression that is worse or new
- irritability that is worse or new
- panic attacks
Gabapentin can also affect specific parts of the body and cause serious but rare side effects. These include:
A person may experience symptoms related to kidney abnormalities, such as:
- a change in how much urine they produce
- trouble urinating
- blood in the urine
- weight gain
- swelling in the legs or feet from fluid retention
A person may experience:
- severe fatigue, tiredness, or weakness
- unexpected muscle pain
- long-lasting stomach pain
- skin color with a bluish tint on the lips, nail beds, toes, or fingers
- a skin rash
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- tightness in the chest or throat
- gland swelling that does not go away
- swelling of the face, lips, throat, or tongue
Call your doctor right away if you experience signs of an allergic reaction to gabapentin. Call 911 if these symptoms appear life threatening.
There is a lack of scientific research comparing the effects of gabapentin in people of different genders. However, the 2011 drug label for the Neurontin brand of gabapentin, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, states that “there are no significant gender differences.”
The only difference may relate to sexual dysfunction. According to a 2002 article in The American Journal of Psychiatry, people of any gender may lose the ability to orgasm after taking gabapentin. However, only women have also reported experiencing a lack of libido.
Gabapentin is only available on prescription, so people will need to visit a doctor to obtain this medication.
It is vital to discuss the potential side effects of gabapentin, as well as any necessary precautions, with the doctor. A doctor will likely:
- offer dietary and lifestyle advice, particularly if weight gain from gabapentin is a concern
- advise the individual not to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking gabapentin
- recommend over-the-counter medications that can help with some common side effects
People already taking the medication should contact a doctor if the side effects become bothersome. It is important not to stop gabapentin treatment without speaking with a doctor first. Suddenly stopping the drug can lead to withdrawal, seizures, and other serious problems.
A doctor can offer advice on managing side effects and provide medical supervision to allow a person to start or stop taking the medication safely.