If you suffer from neuropathy – there’s a good chance you’ve heard of or even been prescribed the drug Gabapentin to treat your nerve pain. Commonly known by its brand name Neurontin – the drug has been used for a number of off-label uses. In the early 2000’s, sales of gabapentin skyrocketed, reaching $2.3 billion in annual sales.
Despite these record sales, however, the parent company Pfizer was ordered to pay $430 million in fines from a 2004 settlement involving charges that it illegally marketed the drug for non-approved uses.
So – what if you’re taking or considering taking the drug now? It is still on the market and doctors often prescribe it for neuropathy – so chances are it’ll cross your path at some point. Lets take a deeper look at 6 things you need to know about gabapentin before taking it:
#1 – Originally Created to Treat Seizures
Gabapentin was developed in 1993 to prevent and control seizures. It falls into a class of drugs known as anticonvulsants – or drugs used to treat epileptic seizures. It has also been approved by the FDA to relieve nerve pain from shingles.
#2 – Evidence shows it’s largely ineffective for neuropathy
Only 14% of patients taking gabapentin for chronic neuropathic pain report meaningful relief. In a recent study by an independent organization looking at the effectiveness of gabapentin and other drugs for treatment of nerve pain, as few as one in ten patients experienced a reduction in pain.
#3 – Fatigue and weight gain are common
Two of the most common side effects of gabapentin are fatigue and weight gain. Many report excessive sleepiness and difficulty functioning while taking gabapentin. Significant weight gain has also been reported among some taking the drug – although the risk is generally low (only about 3% report significant weight gain).
A study by the University of Miami Department of Neurology found that weight gain is more common among high dose users. In their study of 28 patients taking over 3000 mg/day, 10 patients experienced weight gain of 10% of their baseline weight. 15 patients gained 5-10%, 16 experienced no change and 3 patients actually experienced weight loss of between 5-10% of their baseline weight.
#4 – Depression, clumsiness and delusions have also been reported
Jump onto any message board discussing gabapentin and you’re likely to find a number of complaints from users saying it felt like their brains had turned to jello, that they had difficulty functioning and that they experienced varying levels of depression. For many, these side effects were severe enough that they discontinued use of the drug.
#5 – May cause seizures when you stop taking it
If you decide to stop taking gabapentin, one potential withdrawal symptom to be aware of is seizures. Because it was designed to prevent or control seizures, in some cases the discontinued use of it may actually cause seizures. While the risk is low, talk to your doctor before discontinuing use of the drug.
#6 – Costs between $100-$200 a month
As of 2015, the average cost for a month’s supply of gabapentin was between $100-$200.  There are both cheaper (i.e. Desipramine and duloxetine) and more expensive (i.e. pregabalin) treatments for neuropathy, so gabapentin falls somewhere in the middle of the road in terms of cost.
Whether you’re currently taking gabapentin or consider taking it in the future, understanding the benefits, side effects, costs and more is important in determining whether the drug is right for you or not. As always, weigh the risks against the potential benefits and discuss any concerns with your doctor.