Gabapentin is a pharmaceutical drug that was originally developed to treat epilepsy. It’s often sold under the following brand names:
According to the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Royal Infirmary of Edinburg, the drug is also widely used to relieve neuropathic (disease-associated) pain and general pain.
Effective for Fibromyalgia Pain
The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) says that gabapentin is effective for treating widespread pain
and other symptoms of discomfort in fibromyalgia patients.
This conclusion was reached after a NIAMS-sponsored clinical trial of 150 participants, most of whom where women. The study was randomized and double-blind. Double-blind means that neither those administering the test nor those participating knew if the participants were taking the actual drug or the placebo.
(It’s important to understand the terminology surrounding fibromyalgia and fibromyalgia research. This site has a convenient plain-English six-part glossary to help you understand terms you might come across as you learn more about fibromyalgia. For more information about double-blind studies and other types of studies, or terms you may have come across, visit the relevant section of the glossary.
· Glossary Part 1: Words that begin with letter A, B or C
· Glossary Part 2: Words that begin with the letter D, E or F
· Glossary Part 3: Words that begin with the letter G, H or I
· Glossary Part 4: Words that begin with the letter J, K, L or M
· Glossary Part 5: Words that begin with the letter N, O or P
· Glossary Part 6: Words that begin with the letter Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y or Z)
More Information About Gabapentin Research
The NIAMS-sponsored clinical trial was conducted by the director of the Women’s Health Research Program at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Dr. Lesley M. Arnold. It lasted 12 weeks. The patients who received gabapentin does of 1,200 to 2,400 mg daily experienced significantly less fibromyalgia-related pain than those taking the placebo.
The participants who were taking the gabapentin reported that they had a better sleep and less fatigue. There were some side effects including sedations and dizziness. But the study reports that the severity of the side effects were mild to moderate in most of the cases.
Gabapentin currently is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Only pregabalin, a drug similar in composition to gabapentin, has been FDA-approved for treating fibromyalgia.
Even without FDA-approval, NIAMS Director Stephen I. Katz M.D., Ph.D. believes that the drug could provide more effective pain relief than the “modestly effective” treatments currently on the market.
How Does It Work?
Dr. Arnold’s study doesn’t specifically show how gabapentin reduces the pain of fibromyalgia. Since the cause of the condition is unknown, it’s difficult to determine precisely why some drugs alleviate symptoms while others don’t.
According to Dr. Arnold, gabapentin “reduces calcium flow into the nerve cell.” It’s thought that by reducing the calcium flow, the molecules involved in pain processing are unable to be released.
The Bad News
Although the patients in Dr. Arnold’s study didn’t experience significant side effects, gabapentin is known for a variety of side effects.
Most common side effects, according to the FDA, include swelling of the extremities (peripheral edema), dizziness and drowsiness. In the testing gabapentin on rats, it was discovered that the drug induces a type of pancreatic cancer in them. The cancer didn’t affect the lifespan of the rats neither did the tumors spread.
It also can’t safely be abruptly discontinued since instantly quitting the medication after long term use causes severe withdrawal symptoms like chest pain, disorientation, agitation and hypertension.