Seizures and pain caused by shingles are extremely painful and almost impossible to ignore. Anti-seizure medications like Gabapentin are extremely effective for reducing the neuropathic pain and seizures caused by shingles.
Shingles is a viral condition that is similar in some respects to chicken pox. According to Mayo Clinic, the varicella-zoster virus causes both shingles and chicken pox.
Many people who have had chickenpox don’t realize the virus never really leaves the body. Rather, it just goes dormant inside the nerve cells. With the right triggers, the virus can come to life again as shingles.
While it is quite rare to get chickenpox a second time, it is possible to get shingles more than once. There is a vaccine for shingles, but it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get shingles.
Shingles, like chickenpox, is contagious. It can also create serious side effects in some people. This is especially true for older people, who are more likely to get shingles.
Shingles can also be painful. For this reason it is important to talk with your doctor about pain management medications like Gabapentin.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is a rash caused by a virus. The rash often develops into blisters. Usually it appears on one side of your torso. It can also appear anywhere else on your body. Another common place shingles might appear is on one side of your face near your eye.
The rash often appears to be marching single-file across your torso or face, unlike with chickenpox which tends to spread out randomly across your skin. Like chickenpox, it can be itchy and painful.
Shingles isn’t considered life-threatening, but some complications from shingles can cause lasting distress.
Shingles symptoms include itching, pain, burning, tingling, numbness, fever, fatigue, light sensitivity and headaches.
Complications from shingles can cause phantom nerve pain (“postherpetic neuralgia”), vision loss, other skin infections, brain swelling, balance problems and face paralysis.
People who are over the age of 50 who are exposed to the chickenpox virus are considered at the greatest risk of developing shingles. Also, if you are being treated for cancer or an immune issue (such as HIV), you may be at higher risk to get shingles.
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a medicine used to treat complications from shingles such as nerve pain. According to MedScape Medical News, Gabapentin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat shingles complications in early 2011.
If you get shingles and develop complications, these can last long-term without proper treatment. The reason phantom nerve pain is so hard to treat is because the shingles virus confuses your nerves. Then the confused nerves send the brain signals that they are experiencing pain even after the real pain has passed.
In some cases, post-shingles complications can also include seizures. The Journal of Infectious Diseases reports that this can happen in anywhere from 29 to 52 percent of shingles cases.
Today’s Geriatric Medicine reports that Gabapentin is able to provide relief from nerve pain associated with shingles complications.
Gabapentin is a type of medication used to treat seizures (it is often called an “anti convulsive” or “anti epileptic” medicine for this reason).
Gabapentin is similar to GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter, or nerve cell messenger, that occurs naturally in the body. Because of this similar structure, it is thought that it can change or stop pain messages that the nerve cells are sending to the brain.
How Is Gabapentin Prescribed?
Gabapentin is prescribed by a doctor. It is not available over the counter. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions on how to take it.
Gabapentin can be prescribed as an immediate-release where the full impact is felt right away. It can also be prescribed as an extended-release where the impact is measured out over a period of time.
Gabapentin (generic) is often prescribed as Horizant, Neurontin or Gralise, but these are the same medicine. How you take it will depend on whether your doctor prescribes the immediate-release or the extended-release version of this drug.
Gralise and Neurontin are immediate-release and Horizant is extended-release.
Gabapentin is usually taken by mouth. It can be taken as a tablet, a capsule or an oral solution in liquid.
When & How Should You Take Gabapentin?
- The oral solution is available in a 250mg or 5ml solution.
- The tablets are available in 100mg, 300mg, 400mg, 600mg or 800mg.
You should make sure to store your Gabapentin properly so that it will work for you. Store tablets and caplets in a cool, dry place no warmer than 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).
Store the solution in the refrigerator and make sure it is no colder than 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
If you take Gralise, your doctor will probably instruct you to take the full dose once per day. If you take Neurontin, your doctor will probably tell you to take it in three even doses at certain times during the day.
It is safe to take Gabapentin in your prescribed dosage with or without food, but it is always best to follow your doctor’s specific instructions for how to take it.
What Are the Side Effects?
Gabapentin does have some side effects. The side effects can vary from patient to patient. You may or may not experience side effects while taking Gabapentin.
If you do have side effects, you should tell your doctor right away. If you are pregnant, you should tell your doctor before taking Gabapentin.
These are the side effects patients have had:
- Panic attacks
- Double vision
- Eye movements
- Suicidal thoughts
- Fever or sweating
- Agression or anger
- Difficulty speaking or seeing
- Restlessness or hyperactivity
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Swelling in the lower legs and feet
- Mood changes (such as depression or anxiety)
Some of these side effects are more serious than others. You should always call your doctor right away if you are worried about any side effects from taking Gabapentin.
A rare but serious side effect that can occur while taking Gabapentin is called Multi-Organ Sensitivity Syndrome, or DRESS. DRESS is very serious and you should tell your doctor right away if you have a rash, a fever or your lymph glands around your neck and armpits swell up.
How Does It Interact With Other Medicines?
It is very important to tell your doctor about every medication, vitamin or herbal supplement you are taking before you take Gabapentin. This is because Gabapentin can interact with certain other drugs, which means it can change how they work or vice versa.
For example, if you are taking other drugs to manage pain, such as morphine or hydrocodone, Gabapentin can potentially change how they work. Also, if you are taking drugs to treat stomach acid problems, such as magnesium hydroxide or aluminum hydroxide, these drugs may prevent Gabapentin from working well for you.
An allergy to this medication may cause hives, swelling, trouble breathing or a rash. If you have ever taken this medication before and you had an allergic reaction, do NOT take it again! It could be deadly.
It is also important to not drink alcohol while you are taking Gabapentin. Drinking alcohol can make any side effects you have from the medication worse.
Should You Take Gabapentin?
Gabapentin, like many prescription medicines today, is prescribed when the benefits may outweigh the risks. There are always risks when taking any medication, and you won’t know in advance whether you will get any side effects.
If you have had shingles and are in pain or uncomfortable, your doctor might prescribe Gabapentin to ease your symptoms. You should always talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about taking it.
Choosing to take this medication is a very personal decision that no one can make for you. If your doctor has prescribed it, then be sure to review all other drugs or supplements you are taking to be sure there won’t be any interactions.
Also be sure to keep daily notes about how you feel. You should pay close attention to whether the medication is easing your discomfort from shingles and also whether you are experiencing any side effects, whether they are on the list here or not.
Some patients won’t experience side effects and some patients may experience mild or severe side effects. You should call your doctor immediately if your shingles pain starts to get worse or you start to experience side effects after taking Gabapentin.
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