Gabapentin for management of recurrent pain in 22 nonverbal children with severe neurological impairment: a retrospective analysis

J Palliat Med. 2015 May;18(5):453-6. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2014.0359. Epub 2015 Feb 6.


Background: Children with severe impairment of the central nervous system (CNS) have a high incidence of distressing symptoms, with many experiencing frequent recurrent pain episodes.

Objective: The study objective was to describe presenting pain behaviors, daily dose, and response to gabapentin for the management of frequent recurrent pain in this population.

Methods: A retrospective analysis was performed with data from 22 children with severe impairment of the CNS residing at a long-term care facility, treated with gabapentin for recurrent pain behaviors. Response was considered significant if the frequency and severity of symptoms decreased by more than 50% as assessed by nursing staff.

Results: Pain behaviors commonly reported included facial grimacing, crying, or moaning. Intermittent increase in muscle tone was identified in 86% (n=19). Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms occurred in 64% (n=14), including pain localized to the GI tract and vomiting. All were assessed for nociceptive pain sources, many with repeated testing. Most were on medications for spasticity (n=20, 91%) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) (n=22, 100%) prior to gabapentin use. Of the 22 treated with gabapentin, 21 (91%) had a significant decrease in symptoms. No serious adverse events occurred. The mean gabapentin dose for children five years of age or less (n=11) was 50 mg/kg/day (95% CI 45-56) compared to children older than 11 years (n=11) with a mean dose of 36 mg/kg/day (95% CI 34-38).

Conclusions: Gabapentin appears to be an effective treatment for children with severe impairment of the CNS and recurrent pain behaviors, including intermittent changes in muscle tone. Dosing information can guide treatment trials and future prospective studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amines / administration & dosage
  • Amines / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / complications
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Gabapentin
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Long-Term Care / methods
  • Male
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / administration & dosage
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / therapeutic use*


  • Amines
  • Analgesics
  • Cyclohexanecarboxylic Acids
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Gabapentin