Pruritus is defined as the second order of nociception, the first being pain; thus, there is a rationale to study gabapentin, a drug that increases the threshold to experience nociception. The aim of this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was to study the effect of gabapentin on the perception of pruritus and its behavioral manifestation, scratching, in cholestasis. The participants were 16 women with chronic liver disease and chronic pruritus. Hourly scratching activity (HSA) was continuously recorded for up to 48 hours at baseline and on treatment for at least 4 weeks in an inpatient setting. The perception of pruritus was assessed by interviews and by a visual analog score (VAS) of pruritus recorded every hour while patients were awake. Patients were randomized to the study drug (gabapentin or placebo) at a starting dose of 300 mg orally per day in divided doses to a maximum of 2,400 mg or until relief from pruritus. Gabapentin was associated with an increase in mean HSA, in contrast to the placebo, which was associated with a decrease. The mean VAS decreased significantly among those taking the placebo and in some patients on gabapentin. In conclusion, gabapentin did not provide a significant therapeutic advantage over the placebo; in fact, it was associated with an increase in the perception of pruritus and in HSA in some patients.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00058890.