Neuropathy is a disorder that affects the nerves and essentially eliminates their ability to properly pass along sensation. This condition often leads to numbness, tingling, burning and pain in the affected areas, although some people may experience sensitivity to touch. This sensitivity is often caused by confusion in the body’s electrical system as nerves are dying and signals are not processed completely like in healthy nerve reactions. When neuropathy affects the extremities, such as the hands and feet, the condition is typically referred to as peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy can have a variety of causes, but most often, it is the result of alcohol abuse or drug use over many years or trauma to the nerves. In mild cases, it may be possible to reverse some of the damage, but in others, the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can become permanent. Treatment options for peripheral neuropathy can include physical therapy and lifestyle adjustments, but many physicians also prescribe medications like gabapentin to assist in mitigating the bothersome sensations that come along with peripheral neuropathy.
What is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is the generic form of the prescription drug Neurontin and others, and it is a GABA analogue. The drug works by regulating the electrical system and its interactions with the nerves, making it a common treatment option for people suffering from peripheral neuropathy, epilepsy and recovering from shingles. Many older Americans are prescribed gabapentin because all forms of neuropathy are more common in seniors simply due to the effects of time and wear on the body. Gabapentin works by reducing activity in the central nervous system, and current research suggests that gabapentin may be beneficial in combating withdrawal from alcohol and opiate drugs.
Use Caution When Taking Gabapentin
Because gabapentin can cause changes to electrical signal processing within the central nervous system, it is usually recommended that patients taking gabapentin avoid driving or other activities that require focus when taking the drug. In most cases, gabapentin is titrated to ensure the proper dose. This means that you will start off on a small dose to see how well you tolerate the effects of gabapentin before moving up to a higher dose until the optimum level is reached.
If prescribed gabapentin, your doctor will provide you with specific dosage and titration instructions based on your personal medical history and reason for taking the drug. It’s important to follow these directions exactly to avoid serious side effects. Also, some people have reported experiencing withdrawal when stopping regular gabapentin use without tapering off the drug, so if you plan to stop taking gabapentin, you will want to work closely with your physician to create a taper plan to safely and easily wean you off to reduce the potential for difficult or serious side effects. Stopping gabapentin abruptly when suffering from an epileptic disorder may cause a rebound effect and increase the likelihood of having a seizure.
Does Medicare Cover Gabapentin?
If you’re suffering from peripheral neuropathy or a related nerve condition that requires gabapentin, the good news is that virtually all Medicare benefits plans cover the drug under Part D. This is the part of Medicare that provides prescription drug coverage, and because gabapentin is available for purchase at retail pharmacies and is considered a medically necessary drug in the treatment of serious diseases and conditions, it is usually covered.
There may be a difference in coverage if gabapentin is provided as a treatment while staying temporarily in a skilled nursing facility or while admitted to a hospital. During these times, drugs that are provided as part of a treatment plan are generally covered by Medicare Part A. Part B of your Medicare benefits would cover outpatient treatment, but unless gabapentin were administered during a doctor’s visit for the purposes of monitoring tolerance to a dose, it is unlikely that you would need to file a claim under Part B.
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