How Gabapentin Can Treat Restless Legs Symptoms

The prescription drug gabapentin (sold under the trade name Neurontin or Horizant) is a commonly used medication that can help treat the symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS).

A man sitting on his bed with restlessness
PhotoAlto / Fredric Cirou / Getty Images


Gabapentin can be used to treat the symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS). It may be especially helpful if the symptoms are perceived as less intense yet painful. In individuals with a history of peripheral neuropathy or chronic pain, it may be of added benefit. Furthermore, gabapentin may be helpful to treat RLS in the context of other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia.

Gabapentin is recommended for treatment of chronic RLS, but other nonpharmacologic treatments should be tried first, especially for initially diagnosed patients. These include treatment for iron deficiency if present, use of behavioral strategies, and avoidance of aggravating factors.

How It Works

Gabapentin is a medication that has been used to treat seizures. It is similar in structure to GABA, which is present in nerve cells, but it does not interact with the same receptors. It is not known how gabapentin works to improve the symptoms of RLS.

Who Should Not Use It

Gabapentin is a relatively safe drug that can be used by most people. There are a few situations where caution may be indicated. For example, if you have impaired kidney function, are elderly, or have depression, you may want to be cautious. If these situations apply to you, speak to your physician about your concerns before taking gabapentin.

Side Effects

As with any drug, there are many potential side effects with the use of gabapentin. Although an individual would not be expected to experience most side effects—and may indeed not have any of them—some that may occur with gabapentin include:

  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Swelling in your feet
  • Nystagmus (jittery eye movements)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shakiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of sensation
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Infection
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Strange thinking
  • Slurred speech
  • Stomach upset
  • Weight gain

Potential Serious Reactions

Serious side effects of gabapentin occur rarely, but can include:

  • Abnormal blood counts (leukopenia or thrombocytopenia)
  • Continuous seizures
  • Withdrawal after stopping the drug abruptly
  • Abnormal movements
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Fractures
  • Severe rash
  • Kidney failure

Safety Warnings

If you or someone you know is taking gabapentin, it will be important to monitor for signs of depression, unusual behavior changes, and thoughts of suicide. The safety of gabapentin use in pregnancy and with breastfeeding is not known. In addition, as noted above, there are certain individuals who should use gabapentin with caution or not at all. If you experience any difficulties, you should be in close contact with your primary health provider.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gabapentin. US National Library of Medicine. January 2020.

  2. NEURONTIN- gabapentin capsule. DailyMed. January 2020.

  3. Highlights Of Prescribing Information: Horizant. US Food & Drug Administration.

  4. Highlights Of Prescribing Information: Neurontin. US Food & Drug Administration.

  5. Neurontin® (gabapentin) Capsules. US Food & Drug Administration.

Additional Reading
  • "Gabapentin." Epocrates Rx Pro. Version 2.90, 2009. Epocrates, Inc. San Mateo, California.
  • Garcia-Borreguero, D. et al. "Treatment of restless legs syndrome with gabapentin: a double-blind, cross-over study." Neurology. 2002; 59:1573.
  • Happe, S. et al. "Treatment of idiopathic restless legs syndrome (RLS) with gabapentin." Neurology. 2001; 57:1717.
  • Silber, MH et al. "An algorithm for the management of restless legs syndrome." Mayo Clin Proc. 2004; 79:916.
  • Thorp, ML et al. "A crossover study of gabapentin in treatment of restless legs syndrome among hemodialysis patients." Am J Kidney Dis. 2001; 38:104.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.