gabapentin side effects long term

Gabapentin side effects long term


Gabapentin, a medication highly regarded for its effectiveness in treating neuropathy pains such as sciatica and diabetic neuropathy, has gained significant attention in recent years. It is one of the most common medications prescribed in our pain management clinic.  This article aims to provide detailed insights into the use of gabapentin, its mechanism of action in slowing down nerve signals, common side effects (including drowsiness), and alternative medicines or supplements that can be used without causing drowsiness.

Gabapentin side effects long term

Understanding Gabapentin’s Mechanism of Action

Gabapentin, known by its brand name Neurontin, belongs to a class of medications called anticonvulsants. Although the exact mechanism of action is not fully understood, gabapentin is believed to modulate the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps regulate the transmission of nerve signals. In simple terms, it slows down nerves.

By increasing the concentration of GABA in the brain, gabapentin reduces the excitability of nerve cells, thereby decreasing the transmission of pain signals. This mechanism offers relief to individuals experiencing chronic neuropathic pain caused by conditions like sciatica and diabetic neuropathy.

Benefits of Gabapentin for Neuropathy Pains

Gabapentin has garnered popularity as a treatment option for neuropathy. Here are some key advantages associated with using gabapentin:

1. Effective Pain Relief:

Gabapentin has demonstrated efficacy in reducing neuropathic pain, offering significant relief to individuals suffering from conditions such as sciatica and diabetic neuropathy.

2. Favorable Drug Interaction Profile:

Gabapentin exhibits a relatively low potential for interacting with other medications. This attribute makes it a versatile choice for individuals who require multiple medications to manage their medical conditions. Gabapentin can be used as an adjunct therapy without significant concerns about adverse drug interactions.

Understanding Common Side Effects of Gabapentin

While gabapentin is generally well-tolerated, it is essential to be aware of potential side effects. The occurrence and severity of these side effects can vary among individuals. Here is a table outlining some of the commonly reported side effects of gabapentin:

Common Side Effects of Gabapentin
Weight gain

It is important to note that not everyone experiences these side effects, and individual responses to the medication may vary. If you encounter persistent or severe side effects, it is crucial to consult your healthcare provider for further guidance.

Managing Drowsiness and Exploring Alternatives

Drowsiness is the most common side effect of gabapentin that some individuals may experience.  Gabapentin works by slowing down nerves.  The medication cannot discern between nerves which are causing pain vs. nerves that are doing their normal functions.  Therefore drowsiness can occur.  However, if drowsiness becomes problematic or significantly interferes with daily activities, various alternative medicines or supplements can be considered. Let’s explore some options:


1. Start with very low dose

One way to minimize side effects is to start with a subtherapeutic dose of gabapentin such as 100mg at night time only.  Slow increase as the patient can tolerate.  It may take some time to increase to a therapeutic dose but it will decrease the chances of having untoward side effects.


2. Pregabalin:

Pregabalin, marketed under the brand name Lyrica, is another medication commonly prescribed for neuropathy pains. It shares similarities with gabapentin in terms of mechanism of action and effectiveness. Pregabalin may offer comparable benefits for managing conditions such as sciatica and diabetic neuropathy. Drowsiness is also a common side effect with this medication as the mechanism of action is the same.

2. Topical Analgesics:

Topical analgesics, including creams, gels, or patches, can provide localized pain relief when applied directly to the affected area. These products often contain active ingredients such as lidocaine or capsaicin, which work by numbing the nerves or reducing pain sensations. Unlike oral medications, topical analgesics have a lower likelihood of causing drowsiness as they act locally.

3. Physical Therapy:

In addition to medication, physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing neuropathy pains. Skilled physical therapists can design personalized exercise programs to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and alleviate pressure on affected nerves. Techniques such as stretches, massages, and low-impact exercises can help reduce pain and improve overall function.

4. Acupuncture:

Acupuncture, an ancient practice, involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to alleviate pain and promote healing. While the exact mechanism of action is not fully understood, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. Many individuals have found acupuncture beneficial in managing neuropathy pains, including those caused by sciatica and diabetic neuropathy.

5. Alpha-Lipoic Acid:

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), a natural compound with antioxidant properties, shows promise in managing neuropathy pains. Studies suggest that ALA may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, potentially improving symptoms associated with neuropathy. ALA supplements are readily available and can be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for neuropathy.



Potential Long-Term Side Effects

While gabapentin is generally well-tolerated, it is important to consider potential long-term side effects that may arise with prolonged use. Some individuals may experience the following:

1. Cognitive Effects:

Long-term use of gabapentin has been associated with cognitive impairments, including difficulties with concentration, memory, and attention. It is important to monitor any changes in cognitive function and consult a healthcare professional if such issues arise.

2. Physical Dependence:

In some cases, individuals may develop physical dependence on gabapentin, leading to withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing the medication abruptly. It is crucial to follow a healthcare professional’s guidance when adjusting the dosage or discontinuing gabapentin to mitigate these effects.

3. Mood Changes:

Gabapentin has been reported to cause mood changes, such as depression or anxiety, in certain individuals. Monitoring one’s mental health and discussing any concerns with a healthcare professional is vital to address such issues appropriately.

It is essential to note that the occurrence and severity of long-term side effects may vary among individuals. Regular communication with a healthcare provider and adhering to their guidance are crucial for minimizing potential risks associated with long-term use of gabapentin.


Gabapentin is a valuable medication for managing neuropathy pains, offering effective relief for conditions like sciatica and diabetic neuropathy. Its mechanism of action in slowing down nerve signals provides significant benefits to individuals experiencing chronic pain. While gabapentin may cause drowsiness as a potential side effect, alternative medicines and supplements can be explored to manage neuropathy without such sedative effects.

Topical analgesics, physical therapy, acupuncture, and alpha-lipoic acid are some options that can provide relief without making the patient drowsy.

About the author: Rainier Guiang, MD is board certified in Pain Management and Anesthesiology and has been in academic and private practice since 1999.

Disclosure: The content on may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive compensation for purchases made through those links.

gabapentin side effects long term
Gabapentin side effects long term
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