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Intrathecal methylprednisolone for intractable postherpetic neuralgia.

BACKGROUND: There is no effective treatment for intractable postherpetic neuralgia. Because there is evidence that postherpetic neuralgia has an inflammatory component, we assessed treatment with intrathecally administered methylprednisolone to reduce pain in patients with this disorder.

METHODS: We enrolled 277 patients who had had intractable postherpetic neuralgia for at least one year, 270 of whom were followed for two years. The patients were randomly assigned to receive intrathecal methylprednisolone and lidocaine (3 ml of 3 percent lidocaine with 60 mg of methylprednisolone acetate, 89 patients), lidocaine alone (3 ml of 3 percent lidocaine, 91 patients), or no treatment (90 patients) once per week for up to four weeks. Each weekly dose was injected into the lumbar intrathecal space. Pain was evaluated before randomization, at the end of the treatment period, and then four weeks, one year, and two years later. Samples of cerebrospinal fluid were obtained for measurement of interleukin-8 before and at the end of the treatment period.

RESULTS: There was minimal change in the degree of pain in the lidocaine-only and control groups during and after the treatment period. In the methylprednisolone-lidocaine group, the intensity and area of pain decreased, and the use of the nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug diclofenac declined by more than 70 percent four weeks after the end of treatment. No complications related to intrathecal methylprednisolone were observed. Before treatment, the concentrations of interleukin-8 in the cerebrospinal fluid were inversely related to the duration of neuralgia in all the patients (r=-0.49, P<0.001). In the patients who received methylprednisolone, interleukin-8 concentrations decreased by 50 percent, and this decrease correlated with the duration of neuralgia and with the extent of global pain relief (P<0.001 for both comparisons).

CONCLUSIONS: The results of this trial indicate that the intrathecal administration of methylprednisolone is an effective treatment for postherpetic neuralgia.

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