Long-Term Use of Gabapentin May Trigger MG Exacerbations, Case Report Says

Long-Term Use of Gabapentin May Trigger MG Exacerbations, Case Report Says

Physicians should keep in mind that severe exacerbations in patients with myasthenia gravis (MG) might be triggered by the use of gabapentin (sold under the brand name Neurontin, among others), normally used to control seizures, a case report study says.

Uncontrolled recurrent myasthenia gravis exacerbations secondary to chronic gabapentin use,” was published in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives.

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication approved for the treatment of focal seizures (seizures caused by abnormal activity in a specific region of the brain), post-herpetic pain (nerve pain associated with shingles), and neuropathic pain.

“Although uncommon, there have been three reported cases of MG exacerbation associated with gabapentin in the literature,” the authors stated.

In this case report study, physicians from MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore described the case of a man who had recurrent, uncontrollable MG exacerbations that were found to be associated with long-term use of gabapentin.

The 77-year-old man arrived at the hospital complaining of neck and arm weakness, difficulty swallowing, and double vision. In the year after his MG diagnosis, the man had had several disease flare-ups, including some that required hospitalization, where he experienced similar symptoms.

His previous exacerbations had been successfully treated with Mestinon (pyridostigmine), or with a combination of intravenous methylprednisolone, plasmapheresis, and intravenous immunoglobulin.

This particular episode also required hospitalization. The patient received intravenous methylprednisolone, mycophenolic acid, a high dose of Mestinon and five rounds of plasmapheresis, which together reverted the acute MG exacerbation.

Upon reviewing the medications he was routinely taking, physicians found he had been taking gabapentin to control his neuropathic pain for the past year. Because he had not been exposed to other known risk factors for MG exacerbations, including infections, surgery, or excessive stress, physicians came to believe his recurrent disease flare-ups could be associated with gabapentin.

Based on that assumption, further supported by three cases reported in the literature of MG patients experiencing exacerbations as a result of gabapentin, he discontinued treatment with it. Six months after being discharged from the hospital and stopping treatment with gabapentin, the patient had not experienced any other acute exacerbation of MG.

“The patient’s uncontrolled recurrent MG exacerbations while taking gabapentin coupled with the resolution of MG exacerbations after discontinuing gabapentin led us to believe that gabapentin contributed to this patient’s uncontrolled MG exacerbations,” the authors wrote.

“To our knowledge, this case represents the fourth case in the literature reporting gabapentin’s  [harmful] effects on MG. [While] gabapentin exacerbation of MG is exceedingly rare, providers should consider it as a possible side effect of gabapentin,” they added.

Joana is currently completing her PhD in Biomedicine and Clinical Research at Universidade de Lisboa. She also holds a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology from Universidade de Lisboa. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that make up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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Margarida graduated with a BS in Health Sciences from the University of Lisbon and a MSc in Biotechnology from Instituto Superior Técnico (IST-UL). She worked as a molecular biologist research associate at a Cambridge UK-based biotech company that discovers and develops therapeutic, fully human monoclonal antibodies.
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Joana is currently completing her PhD in Biomedicine and Clinical Research at Universidade de Lisboa. She also holds a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology from Universidade de Lisboa. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that make up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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4 comments

  1. Robert Titman says:

    I have been on gabapentin for over 20 years. The only crisis I have had in 4 years of MG was caused by stress of dealing with my 83 year old mother. I was in Medstar Georgetown University Hospital for 3 weeks and rehab for 1. I find your conclusion difficult to believe. I am a patient of Dr. Farina Amjad.

  2. Michelle Albarella says:

    Hello. Read your article and found it interesting.
    I would like to know if you have any information on the use of gabapentin on congenital myasthenia gravis, in this case there is a lack of acetycholineesterace at all end plates. My daughter suffers from this since birth and we need to gather any information we can. Not much is widely known. Thank you for your time and any info. You can supply.

  3. Lorraine says:

    I had MG issues when taking it many years ago I realized it was the drug . I am one who responds adversely to many drugs even pre MG not knowing why when FINALLY diagnosed so many answers appeared ! And this was one of the Drugs that cause neck muscles weakness , swallowing and issues . As did Statins and not one Dr could explain why ! This goes back 20 years ago . I’ll have been Dx in February 18 years ago .

  4. Lori Cooper says:

    I was put on Gabapentin 5 years ago for cervical radiculopathy and had only been on it for a month when I went into Myasthenic crisis. I was intubated and in ICU for a week; the Gabapentin was stopped and I was treated with plasmapheresis, high dose prednisone, Cellcept, Mestinon, and IVIG. I went home after being hospitalized for 3 weeks and a week of rehab. The Gabapentin was absolutely the cause of my MG exacerbation and thankfully I have not had another crisis since this incident.

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