Question: Because I live with a fair amount of neuropathy, I was referred to a neurologist who wanted me to start taking Neurontin. I did a quick Google search and found that it is an anti-convulsant medicine. While I trust my physician and have begun taking his prescription, I can’t understand how an anti-convulsant drug, when I have no history of seizures, could be effective for my pain. Can you offer some enlightenment?
Answer: Neuropathy is a problem with the functionality of the peripheral nerves, which are responsible for transmission of signals from the central nervous system to the rest of the body. Neuropathy produces a wide variety of symptoms with varied degrees of severity. In most cases, other health conditions perpetuate neuropathy, so it can be both a symptom and a disease unto itself. The most common symptoms are numbing and/or tingling in localized areas of the body. This occurs because the nerves that carry messages of sensation, such as touch, pain, or temperature, are not performing optimally.
Numbness generally occurs in the lower half of the body with an increasing loss of perception of stimuli in the affected area of the body. Tingling is noted as a localized kind of mild, prickly feeling.
“While it is true that Neurontin, also known by its generic name gabapentin, was originally approved in 1994 as an anti-seizure medication, it was soon found to be more effective in treating pain,” explains Floyd Moon, a pharmacist and owner of Moon’s Pharmacy in Tifton, Georgia. “Further research in the late 1990s confirmed that gabapentin is effective in treating a variety of nerve damage related to pain, including neuropathy.”
Neurontin is believed to affect a specific type of calcium channel that blocks pain, Moon reported. Common side effects include sleepiness and dizziness. He suggested that patients taking Neurontin should talk with their physicians about whether the neuropathy is the symptom or the disease.
Moon said, “Depending on good diagnostics, it is possible to alleviate the underlying cause of neuropathy rather than only addressing symptom relief.”
Our expert: Jackson Rainer is a board-certified clinical psychologist who practices with the Care and Counseling Center in Decatur, Georgia, helping people living with chronic illnesses. He consults with a variety of experts to answer a selection of readers’ questions in each issue of Pain-Free Living.
Have questions about living with and managing chronic pain? Email questions to [email protected]. Please put “PFL Q&A” in the subject line.